After two almost-too-close-to-call presidential elections, New Mexico is now considered safe turf for Barack Obama. But more interestingly, in a poll taken just two days ago, things were looking up for the rest of New Mexico's Democratic candidates. Currently, Republicans hold one of the two U.S. Senate seats and two of the three U.S. Congressional seats (read our overview). According to the poll, however, Democrats could sweep the state.
Harry Teague, the conservative Democrat who's running in the historically conservative 2nd District (that's Steve Pearce's old seat, which includes the southern part of the state), was polling at 45 percent, compared to his Republican contender, Ed Tinsley's 41 percent. Teague would be the first Democrat to hold the seat in more than 30 years.
Meanwhile, in the 1st Congressional District, Martin Heinrich, D, is polling at 47 percent while Darren White, R, is polling at 43 percent. At the time of the poll, 10 percent of voters were still undecided and that group will likely determine the outcome of this seat.
Whether the Dems sweep the state or not, the ground that they're gaining could signify a sea change that's unfolding across the country today -- and perhaps a future sea change in the West. During the past few election cycles, New Mexico has been known as a battleground state, with presidential elections that were won and lost by less than 1 percent of the vote and repeated nail biters over the fate of the 1st Congressional District. This year marks a tipping point, whether all three or just two of the three Congressional seats go to Dems. And with "red states" like Arizona and Montana inching toward surprisingly close presidential races, New Mexico could be a bellwether for the West's political future.
As Ray Ring observed back in July, there's a growing rift between conservatives and moderates in the Republican Party in the West. This is something that most of us have lost sight of over the past few months, during which the news has been about the contest between Republicans and Democrats, not the internal power balance of the Republican Party. But this election is going to have a huge impact on who controls the Republican Party of the future. Paul Krugman suggests in his latest column that if the Republican lose, the party may actually move further to the right.
Part of the reason is that Republicans are losing their moderate senators, either to retirement or electoral defeat. One place where this looks particularly likely is in Oregon, where Gordon Smith, who has the second-highest League of Conservation voters rating of any Republican senator, is trailing in the polls. Relatively green Republicans Norm Coleman, of Minnesota, and Elizabeth Dole, of North Carolina, are also in danger of losing their seats. In the short term, this is good news for environmentalists, since the Democrats vying to take these seats are more environmentally friendly than the Republicans they'd be replacing. But in a two-party system, the other party is eventually going to win, which makes it hard not to wonder if it might be a good idea to keeps some moderate Republicans around.
Loyal GOAT readers have already read the tale of Chris Cannon, the ultra-conservative, oil-shale-promoting U.S. House member from Utah who got beat in this year's Republican primary after he made the mistake of being open to compromise on immigration. Well, it turns out that Utah hath nothing weirder -- or sadder -- than an uber-conservative scorned. The Times of London is reporting that Cannon -- acting in concert with his brother-in-law -- recently contacted an Oxford professor who has created a computer program that can detect when two works are written by the same author and offered him $10,000 to determine whether Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father might actually have been written by ... William Ayers! As in William Ayers, the washed-up radical who may have sneezed on Obama while they served on the same nonprofit board in Chicago, thereby infecting him with terrorist cooties. The professor said he was happy to do an analysis of Obama's book, but warned that he would make the results public whether or not he found a connection. At that point, Cannon and his brother-in-law apparently lost interest.
Allegations of an Obama-Ayers book connection have been making the rounds on talk radio and the conservative blogosphere for the past few weeks, but the fact that a sitting congressman was willing to pay for a private investigation of the matter certainly ups the bizarre factor by a few notches. But perhaps Cannon is just laying the groundwork for his next career. After losing the services of Chris Cannon the congressman, can the people of Utah look forward to the appearance of Chris Cannon the talk-show host?
Recently I had the opportunity to fly from Salt Lake City to Arcata on the coast of Northern California during the daytime. I've noticed that most airline passengers don't look out the windows very often. But when I have a clear day I delight in the views. One of my favorite games is to try picking out geographic landmarks. Big volcanoes are easy as are large valleys. Rivers, however, can be very challenging.
The day of this flight was very clear. The first thing I noticed was how much the Great Salt lake has shrunk! I had read about this but seeing it from the air really brought home the change. It is hard to imagine that there once were large resorts on the Lake. Now it appears all but abandoned. On this Sunday I could see only one boat far to the north.
Western Utah from the air is not impressive - unless you get off on salt flats. But it is interesting to think about the fact that this area was once a vast inland sea. Today there is very little evidence of water anywhere in this landscape.
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Frustrated by a lack of action from other Republicans, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has personally raised more than $6.5 million for the National Republican Senatorial Committee through an elite donor group dubbed "Orrin's Army." He also presided over the President's Dinner, a feast that raised $13.5 million for Senate Republicans. The money will be used to fund hundreds of TV ads that will run through election day in an attempt to protect "the firewall" -- enough GOP senators to keep Democrats from achieving a 60-vote majority.
"If we don't have the right to utilize that filibuster rule and force the Democrats to have to get 60 votes, you're going to get some of the worst legislation in the history of the country," Hatch declared in a Fox News interview last week -- just one of many TV appearances the senator has made on behalf of his colleagues.
Eleven seats once held by Republicans are vulnerable, and at least eight states will likely go to Dems: Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon in the West, along with Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia, Alaska and New Hampshire.
Hatch has served in the Senate since 1977. In 2006, he won his own seat for the 6th time, beating challenger Pete Ashdown 62 to 31 percent. In his first year as senator, Hatch led an unprecedented six-vote filibuster, killing the Labor Law Reform Act.
Dams are bad for salmon. That's been the conclusion of thousands of biologists, environmentalists and fishermen after years of watching rapidly declining salmon runs on the Northwest's dammed rivers. We've written many stories about the topic (here are a few: Salmon Justice, Another chance emerges for salmon, Fishermen blamed for salmon troubles, Dams will stand - salmon be damned, The latest salmon plan heads for a train wreck, Salmon plan grows a few teeth).
Now, a controversial new study claims that salmon on an undammed river in British Columbia survive the downstream journey at rates roughly comparable to those for salmon on the Snake and Columbia rivers. The Seattle Times reports:
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... a number of scientists — including several co-authors of the study — are questioning the results and cautioning about what conclusions can really be drawn. There have even been charges that it's little more than a promotion for fish-tracking technology in which the lead author has a financial stake.
"There's a huge mass of scientific literature that documents the impacts of dams. It's just huge," said Michele DeHart, manager of the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded agency that tracks and studies Columbia River fish. "It's like saying, 'Gosh, I just did this comparison and smoking does not cause cancer.' Would you change your mind?"
Tony Hillerman died at age 83 in an Albuquerque hospital this week, succumbing to pulmonary failure after surviving two heart attacks, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis – none of which stopped him from writing (his last novel was published in 2006). His mysteries portrayed the beauty and desolation of the Four Corners area and featured two of the most complex detectives in fiction: Navajo police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.
A highly decorated infantryman, after World War Two Hillerman became a journalist and professor at the University of New Mexico. In 1970 he introduced Joe Leaphorn in the novel “The Blessing Way.” Of his 30 books, 18 featured Leaphorn, Chee or both, and it was these novels that made him a bestselling author beloved by his fans. His themes were spiritual, but he was a master storyteller who used humor, history, archaeology and the clash of cultures to weave his well-crafted mysteries.
In 1987, the Navajo Tribal Council presented him with its Special Friend of the Dineh award, which he prized above his many other honors.
Here's an excerpt from his 1988 novel, "A Thief of Time," said to be his favorite.
Full darkness came late on this dry autumn Saturday. The sun was far below the western horizon but a layer of high, thin cirrus clouds still received the slanting light and reflected it, red now, down upon the ocean of sagebrush north of Nageezi Trading Post. It tinted the patched canvas of Slick Nakai's revival tent from faded tan to a doubtful rose and the complexion of Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn from dark brown to dark red.
From a lifetime of habit, Leaphorn had parked his pickup a little away from the cluster of vehicles at the tent and with its nose pointing outward, ready for whatever circumstances and duty might require of it. But Leaphorn was not on duty. He would never be on duty again. He was in the last two weeks of a thirty-day "terminal leave." When it ended, his application to retire from the Navajo Tribal Police would be automatically accepted. In fact he was already retired. He felt retired. He felt as if it were all far, far behind him. Faded in the distance. Another life in another world, nothing to do with the man now standing under this red October sunset...
Hillerman introduced many a belagaana (white person) to the world of the Navajo, and in his books one finds harmony. I hope he is walking in beauty.
Barack Obama may not be the most pro-gun candidate ever to run for president, but he's not a raging gun-control fanatic, either. His official website states that "Barack Obama believes the Second Amendment creates an individual right, and he respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms." Even if he were anti-gun, his sway on the issue would be limited by the significant number of pro-gun Congressional Democrats and by the Supreme Court's recent ruling that the Second Amendment does in fact create an individual right to own guns.
That's why it's a bit alarming to read that gun sales are up this year, despite a slumping economy, and that some -- including the spokesman for Smith and Wesson -- attribute this increase to people's desire to get out and buy guns before Obama makes gun purchases difficult or impossible. This illustrates what may well be the weak spot in Hal Herring's strategy to make the Democratic party more appealing to sportsmen by getting it to soften its position on gun control. What if sportsmen don't believe Democrats when they start saying that they're pro-gun?
Back when he was a Colorado congressman, we thought Republican Scott McInnis was pretty darned conservative. And he was. But it turns out he's still more moderate than the folks that are taking over his party. He recently said that, had he stayed in the race for Colorado's open U.S. Senate seat, he could have beat front-runner and Democrat Mark Udall. Despite his popularity on the state's Western Slope, however, he may not have been able to win the primary. He told the Colorado Independent:
"I would have beat Udall, that wasn’t the issue,” McInnis said. “Frankly I have more difficulties with the right wing of my party then I do with taking on a Democrat. Udall was not the biggest threat I faced in the election. My biggest threat was getting through the primary. Both parties have a pretty radical element to them.”
Whether he really could have beat Udall, who now has a double digit lead over his opponent Republican Bob Schaffer, is questionable. But McInnis's feelings about his party being invaded by right wing hardliners is widely shared; and its detrimental effects on the party are being felt most strongly in the West.
The question now: Will the disenfranchised moderate Republicans pull their party back to the center? Or will they start their own party?
The NRA has started airing an ad in the Western swing states accusing Obama of wanting to criminalize people who use guns to defend their sleeping children from intruders. It follows this spot, a truly masterful exercise in button-pushing that manages to incorporate both gas prices and an angry hunter:
What's ironic about the cameo appearance of gas prices in this ad is that domestic oil and gas drilling -- the generic Republican answer to pain at the pump -- is probably the biggest single threat to hunting in the United States. This offers a golden opportunity for traditional environmental groups to get together with hook-and-bullet groups -- but only if environmental groups can escape being tied to the Democratic party, or the Democratic party can avoid being painted as anti-gun. That's exactly what Hal Herring's excellent article in this week's HCN argues that the Democrats need to do.