The West’s rising importance in choosing a president

From Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Sens. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.); Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D)

As Western leaders we are proud that the West will play a pivotal role in selecting the 2008 presidential nominees. The Nevada caucuses, scheduled for Jan. 19, will provide the candidates their first opportunity to express themselves on the wide variety of issues we face in the Intermountain West and to address issues important to Western voters. Two weeks later, the other Western battleground states such as Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico will all make their presidential selections.

Affirming the West’s emerging importance, CNN and the Nevada Democratic Party will host a Nov. 15 debate in Las Vegas, one of six sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee. We congratulate the network for placing a special emphasis on the West.

In addition to addressing issues of national and international importance such as the war in Iraq, energy, education, the economy, healthcare and national security, we hope the candidates will make a special attempt to focus on the issues facing the West. From managing our water and natural resources to advancing renewable energy, and from securing our borders to protecting our open spaces, Western voters have unique concerns in protecting our quality of life.

The selection of Nevada for the early caucus and Denver for the home of the Democratic National Convention signals a growing recognition of the significant impact the Western region will have on national elections. States in the Intermountain West control 44 electoral votes, making it a battleground worthy of serious attention from the presidential candidates. Given recent voting trends, the West is up for grabs. Increasing attention and turnout in this region will ensure a truly national contest for the presidency.

We look forward to the Nov. 15 debate and we encourage Western voters to use this opportunity to take a good look at the candidates who want their votes.