Democrats Look for Votes in Western United States

The Democratic Party is making a conscious effort to increase its base across the country, but perhaps no more so than in the Rocky Mountain west, where Republicans are strong. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the battle for the West influenced the Democrat's selection of Denver, Colorado as the site of their national convention.

The Rocky Mountains surround the convention site.  Throughout the week, it was almost as if they were standing guard over the delegates in Denver.

This city sits in a region known for its natural beauty.  But it is also a part of the country rich in votes.  Once considered solidly Republican, the West is being wooed by the Democrats.

"I'm a rancher who has made my living raising cattle and growing wheat, barley and alfalfa in Montana," said Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a life-long Democrat in a heavily Republican State.  

Schweitzer captivated the Democratic Party Convention with his folksy manner, and draws his own link to Barack Obama. 

"Like Senator Obama, my family has roots in the Great Plains," he said.  "My grandparents were immigrants who came to Montana with nothing more than the clothes on their back, high hopes and faith in God."

Democrats now lead state governments throughout the mountain west; from Montana down through Colorado, reaching south to the Mexican border.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says the Democrats must build on this base to bring in new voters in November. And he offers this advice to the Obama campaign.

"Emphasize the Hispanic community, the environment, individualism, and I believe concentrate on New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada.  Those are the barometer states," he said.

The effort to win the West is part of a 50-state strategy put in place by Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to compete even in regions long dominated by Republicans.

The competition is made more intense by the fact that the Republican candidate is a westerner, Arizona Senator John McCain. 

Bill Richardson says that hardly means the West is lost to Democrats. 

"Not, necessarily. "But we have to work the West hard.  We have to work the West hard," he said.  "The West is trending Democrat and we have to take advantage of that."

Democratic delegates from the region say they are returning home from Denver energized.  Lisa Fernandez from Arizona says a personalized approach to courting voters will be important. 

"Now I am going to go and knock on my neighbors' doors, go knock on 25 neighbor's doors," she said. "And they say, like, [if you] do it three times, you should be able to generate a lot of enthusiasm that way."

But the Republicans are fighting back. They sent party leaders to Denver to rebut points made by the Democrats.  They also ran advertising during television coverage of the convention.

Political analyst Mathew Dowd says in the year 2008, neither party can afford to let the other dominate the media.  

"The compact nature of these conventions being so late, you cannot sit out one single day and allow the other campaign to dominate that without trying to interject yourself in that day," he added.

The Republicans open their convention on Monday in Minnesota.

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