"We went from zero to 100 (miles per hour) in seconds," Johnson says. His group contributed about $200,000 to the campaign against Proposition 2 — called Neighbors Protecting Idaho — and devoted four staffers to it. The Nature Conservancy — concerned about the proposition’s impacts on its many Idaho properties and the rural communities it seeks to protect — kicked in $300,000, with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition adding $150,000 and other donors eventually bringing the anti-Proposition 2 war chest up to about $800,000.
Although environmentalists largely funded it, others presented the message to voters. The ad campaign featured a dairy farmer from Melba, a rancher from Sandpoint, a Boise Chamber of Commerce representative, outgoing Republican Gov. Jim Risch and highly respected Democratic ex-Gov. Cecil Andrus. Newspaper op-eds came from a Mormon state senator and others, across the political spectrum.
Out-of-state libertarian groups pumped significant money into their campaign for Proposition 2, but they lost in a landslide, getting just 24 percent of the Idaho vote. The margin against Proposition 2 held in metro Boise and in thoroughly rural counties.
"It completely transcended the partisan goofiness," Johnson says. "And everybody (involved) liked it."
The conservation league earned respect, Johnson says, by demonstrating that it represents mainstream values and knows how to win. And the victory may encourage other broad coalitions of "enemies" to tackle issues with voter appeal, including, perhaps, state tax incentives for conservation easements and sales taxes to fund mass transit, Johnson says.
Thanks to similar coalitions that set aside disagreements among interest groups, nine of the 12 libertarian ballot measures in the West failed.
6) Sometimes you need to lose before you can win.
The moderate Democrat in Wyoming’s House race, Gary Trauner, came within 1,012 votes of unseating Barbara Cubin, out of 193,000 total votes cast. Cubin stands squarely in the Republican right wing: She has suggested selling off public lands; she wants to fence the Mexican border; she’s pushed bills against late-term abortion; and she favors "crack(ing) down on media behemoths who peddle smut on America’s airwaves."
Previously a political unknown, Trauner far outperformed initial expectations, and the voting pattern indicates that a moderate Democrat with more experience could take the seat in 2008, should Trauner decide not to run again. Trauner drew 25 percent of the votes cast by registered Republicans, according to CNN exit polls, and 71 percent of the independents.
"I think Cubin is finished," says one Wyoming lobbyist, a Democrat who asked not to be named, to avoid ruffling his targets in the Wyoming Legislature. Regardless of what the Democrats do, the lobbyist says, moderates in Cubin’s own party will bump her off in the next primary. "Her negatives are huge. She’s rude, nasty, she’s alienated a lot of Republicans, she’s even out of step with the Republican leadership in the Legislature. We actually have a moderate Legislature; the Republicans have a veto-proof majority, and every year a few in the fringe bring up abortion and gay marriage. But the leadership won’t pass any of that crap."
The "50-state strategy" of Howard Dean, head of the Democratic National Committee, beefed up campaign funding in Wyoming and other states where the party’s candidates looked like long shots. The Wyoming Democratic Party had one full-time staffer until, 13 months before the election, Dean’s group sent money to hire two more. The new staffers organized far more volunteers than had been available in recent campaigns and "really built up our ground game, the infrastructure," says Mike Gierau, state party chairman. The close results in Trauner’s race and the party’s net gain of three seats in the Legislature will encourage more viable Democratic candidates to run in 2008. Dean’s strategy "was an immense help in Wyoming," Gierau says.
7) Utah remains Utah.
Even in a November of dramatic shifts in favor of Western Democrats and moderates, Utah re-elected its two conservative Republican representatives and 30-year Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (along with Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, who represents the pocket of liberals holed up in Salt Lake City). The partisan balance in Utah’s Legislature, which Republicans have controlled for 30 years, also stayed the same (75 percent Republican). Utah’s governor and other U.S. senator, who were not up for re-election, are also Republicans.
Utah wasn’t always locked down by Republicans. In the early 1970s, it had a Democratic governor, a Democratic senator, and two Democratic representatives who held the two House seats allotted to the state back then.
Headquartered in Salt Lake City, the Mormon Church has long dominated Utah politics, both through sheer numbers (67 percent of the state’s population in the 2000 census) and by the relationships its leaders have had to major figures in business and government circles. And when church president Spencer W. Kimball, a moderate who issued the revelation allowing black men to be Mormons, fell ill and died in 1985, the church shifted hard to the right. The church avoids overt endorsement of political candidates, and a handful of today’s Democratic leaders are Mormon, including Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, New Mexico Rep. Tom Udall and Matheson. But the church’s conservative Republican tie is clear to members. "There was a point in the 1980s when the church hierarchy said, ‘Enough is enough; we need to go back to our religious values and bring our politics into alignment,’ " says Jeffery Sells, an associate priest at the Episcopal cathedral in Salt Lake City for 15 years, who pulled together writings from experts on the Mormon factor in the 2005 anthology God and Country: Politics in Utah.
According to Sells and other experts, the church began shunning Democratic candidates because the Democratic Party conflicted with Mormon doctrine on social issues — abortion and gay and women’s rights, among other things. "The Mormon hierarchy makes social policy via theological perspectives. And there’s much more allegiance to the chain of authority than with the pope and Catholics," says Sells, now rector of an Episcopal church in Shelton, Wash. Political leanings spread from the Mormons’ First Presidency (the church’s three top leaders, including the president) down to the next tiers (the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Quorums of the Seventy) and then to ward bishops everywhere in Mormon country who are, Sells says, "linked by satellite TVs in virtually every ward house. They’re tightly organized, and there’s a tremendous communication link from top to bottom."
While agreeing with Sells, John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C., adds, "Some of (the Mormon shift to the right) had to do with things that happened in Utah. Salt Lake City began to be a metropolitan place in the 1980s; a certain amount of cultural diversity began to appear."
Mormons closed ranks against the diversity — and the Democratic Party that supports it on a national basis. "That isn’t to say, every election in Utah is about moral issues," Green notes. "But it does give Utah that kind of stability you’re talking about."
It’s a stability that translates into this reality: Utah’s governor, both senators and all three congressmen are Mormon. Green’s surveys of voting patterns nationwide show that "in most recent elections, Mormons have been the most strongly Republican of all the religious communities in the United States." Mormons now out-Republican even white fundamentalist Protestants. In 2004, for example, various polls show they gave Bush as much as 89 percent of their vote.