From the outside – and even for many in the West – the West’s politics are usually seen as swaths of unbroken primary colors. The coast is blue (which in today’s color coding means Democratic) and the interior is Republican red, dotted here and there with liberal bastions such as Aspen, Boulder and Santa Fe. There’s a common belief that it’s always been like this, and that today’s shift to some shade of purple in the interior states is unprecedented.
This belief is based on myth, not reality. It’s true that the interior states handed all their electoral votes to George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, while his opponent dominated in California, Oregon and Washington. But as recently as 1996, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico all swung toward the Democratic presidential candidate (and in the process helped re-elect him). Long before that, large portions of the West – including the rural parts – were Democratic strongholds. The mining towns that once dotted the Rockies were often union strongholds, meaning their residents were not only largely Democratic, but prone to spouting downright socialist rhetoric.
Meanwhile, Republican Ron Paul just set a 24-hour fund-raising record this month, attracting $6 million over the Internet with his libertarian views, and some of his strongest support is coming from Washington and California.
The one political truism that can be said about the West is that we tend to defy the broad-brush approach. A greater percentage of Westerners voted for Ross Perot back in 1992 than in any other region, for example. Dozens of counties and municipalities have officially bristled against the Patriot Act and the Iraq War, as well as the current administration’s treatment of the environment. We see ourselves as fiercely independent, choosing our stance in political battle along something deeper than party lines. Many of our Republican politicians despise the Patriot Act; and many of our Democrats support strong gun rights. And in many a small town in the mountains or valleys of the Interior West, it’s a liability to run for county commissioner or town board as either a Democrat OR a Republican – the party of choice is “Unaffiliated.”
To try to capture a more realistic, and less simplistic, sense of Western politics, we have harvested a bushel of past stories from HCN for your reading pleasure.