Mountain miracle or mirage

Amid the carnage wrought by Democrat defeats in 2004, some donkeys are braying loudly and excitedly about the election results in a handful of Rocky Mountain West states.

In November 2004, as in 2002, Democrats won some unexpected victories in states such as Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. Leading Western Democrats are even organizing lectures and seminars for their less successful Eastern counterparts who are looking for a new and better game plan.Amid the carnage wrought by Democrat defeats in 2004, some donkeys are braying loudly and excitedly about the election results in a handful of Rocky Mountain West states.

In November 2004, as in 2002, Democrats won some unexpected victories in states such as Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. Leading Western Democrats are even organizing lectures and seminars for their less successful Eastern counterparts who are looking for a new and better game plan.

I don’t want to be a sore loser by diminishing Democrat wins. These impressive mile-high victories were earned fair and square. Nor do I want to scapegoat Republicans who managed to turn some red states into a shade of pink.

But I do feel the need to express a different point of view about the causes and consequences of these victories, posing some alternatives to what I see in most Democratic analyses.

To their credit, Democrats offer a varietAmid the carnage wrought by Democrat defeats in 2004, some donkeys are braying loudly and excitedly about the election results in a handful of Rocky Mountain West states. In November 2004, as in 2002, Democrats won some unexpected victories in states such as Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. Leading Western Democrats are even organizing lectures and seminars for their less successful Eastern counterparts who are looking for a new and better game plan.

I don’t want to be a sore loser by diminishing Democrat wins. These impressive mile-high victories were earned fair and square. Nor do I want to scapegoat Republicans who managed to turn some red states into a shade of pink.

But I do feel the need to express a different point of view about the causes and consequences of these victories, posing some alternatives to what I see in most Democratic analyses.

To their credit, Democrats offer a variety of explanations for their success, admitting that there was no single silver bullet. Most notably, no frontier Democrats are claiming their fellow Westerners are embracing Eastern-style liberalism. The closest they come is crediting green policies and initiatives for their success.

But the evidence they marshal for the greening of Mountain West voters is minimal. Colorado voters’ passage of a modest ballot measure requiring more renewable energy generation hardly suggests that most Coloradoans are becoming tree huggers who demand that liberal Democrats control their state Legislature. There are enough green Republicans and dirty Democrats in these states to prevent environmental issues from defining partisanship.

Yet by mildly advancing the green theory, Democrats are distracting attention from perhaps the best single explanation for what occurred. Though I never see any public acknowledgement of the fact, Democrats simply recruited better candidates for many of the upset contests.

By “better,” I don’t mean candidates with more beguiling issue platforms. No, a superior candidate has better people skills and is just more likable. A better candidate also has a better work ethic, knocks on more doors, raises more money or writes more of his own checks. Candidate recruitment is a lost art in some climes, but it’s essential to electoral success.

Another explanation publicly advanced by Democrats makes more sense than their green logic. They point to the influx of new residents flooding into the region from other states. These new voters often don’t share the conservative values and issue agenda of natives. Two prominent groups of newcomers — Californians and Hispanic immigrants — best typify this trend. There is no denying that in-migration is changing the Western electorate, but the numbers and geographical distribution of new voters cannot alone explain the surprising 2002 and 2004 results.

Even if population shifts did account for the Democrats’ success, how happy could Democrats elsewhere be about this? There are only a limited number of California liberals available for export. There surely aren’t enough available to reverse the Democrats’ sorry situation in big states such as Texas and Florida.

The Rocky Mountain Democrats also tout their wooing of swing voters, particularly in small towns and rural areas. Watch the language carefully in these explanations. Some correctly identify these swing voters as “unaffiliated” (the official designation in Colorado) rather than independent. There is a big difference between an “unaffiliated” voter and one who’s “independent.” The former is more of a populist outsider, while the latter is more of an intellectual insider.

Westerners are cognitively closer to unaffiliated. Rural voters in parts of the West resent the power of insiders whether they be in Denver or Washington, D.C.

So Western Democrats, enjoy your time in the statehouse. Now that you’re the insiders, they’ll soon be coming for you.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.