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Democracy Corps focuses once again on the Mountain West, and finds that in 11 targeted congressional races, the Democrats are pulling ahead.

Democrats are on the brink of making historic gains in swing Mountain West Congressional districts. Four years ago in these 11 targeted districts (AZ-01, AZ-03, AZ-05, AZ-08, CO-04, ID-01, NV-02, NV-03, NM-01, NM-02, and WY-AL), Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry lost by 15 points and Democratic Congressional candidates lost by an average of 23 points. Now, however, a sea change has occurred as Obama is nearly tied with McCain (trailing by just thee points – 45 – 48 percent) and Democrats lead in the aggregate vote (50 – 45 percent in the named Congressional vote). Even more encouraging is the fact that Democratic candidates lead in districts currently held by a Republican (48 – 47 percent).

While partisanship has hardened as we approach Election Day – a typical trend – Obama and Congressional Democratic candidates have made gains with key swing voters, including independent women, moderates, women over 50, union households, married voters, and parents of kids under 18.

With both the Democratic presidential candidate and Democratic Congressional candidates making such major strides from four years ago, we believe this represents a cultural shift. Voters in these districts are now seriously supporting Democrats for federal offices, including president, many for the very first time. This is an important point, because in recent elections, Democrats had made gains at the state level in this region, notably for governor and state legislature, but there remained a gap between state performance and federal performance. This poll shows that Democrats have closed this gap and are now breaking through at the federal level as well. [emphasis in original]

I think this potential realignment reflects less of a cultural shift among voters in the region than it does the fact that the Republican party shifted much further right over the past 20 years than the western electorate. In Montana, Colorado, and Arizona in particular the Republican party apparatus fell into the hands of extreme social conservatives--a strain of Republicanism that couldn't be sustained long term in the west, where voters as a whole tend to take a much more libertarian view of social issues. There are certainly pockets of extremely socially conservative Republicans across the west, but they are by no means the majority of Republican and independent voters.

The takeover by the extremists has also really weakened Republican state parties across the region. Even in Idaho, Bill Sali and his crew staged a coup this year, wresting away control of the party from the (ever so slightly) more moderate establishment. Partly as a result, one tradition among Idaho Republican candidates has fallen by the wayside this year. Since 1980, the major Republican candidates in the state have stumped together in a statewide bus tour. They cancelled it this time around, ostensibly because of high gas prices, but more likely because the rest of the slate doesn't want to have to appear with Bill Sali.

But the trend can also be attributed to a group of dynamic and hardworking Democratic candidates who have taken the 50 state strategy approach to heart, and have gone about this campaign the old-fashioned way--the way that always used to work for Democrats in unfriendly territory. They've built armies of local volunteers to go door-to-door to engage voters. A Democrat having a conversation with a voter about the key issues can do more to secure that vote than watching the Republican message on the TV--the approach the GOP is taking all over the region this year. That, coincidentally, is the major mistake Democrats made over the past 20 years in this region--substituting a media and direct mail approach for a reall, in-person ground effort. It's more than gratifying to see those tables turned.

Back to those dynamic candidates. We've got two key Mountain West Dems right now that we're trying to push over the top: Bob Lord and Gary Trauner. We've got about $20,000 left to get Bob's total to $100,000, and $45,000 for Gary to get to his $120,000 goal.

These wins will help solidify a new Democratic base in these states, and can also help in spreading that blue around a little. You're watching it now seep down from Montana into Wyoming, and from Colorado into Arizona. Just think what happens when it starts spreading out to Idaho, and to Texas. Hell, maybe even Utah!

Help make it happen. Pony up for these guys and reward them for their hard work in bringing their party back.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Wed Oct 29, 2008 at 03:00 PM PDT.

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