Published Friday, Aug. 15, 2008 | noon
Updated Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008 | 10:15 a.m.
Sun Expanded Coverage
(The Sun has gone on the road to listen to voters and talk to political leaders around the West. Reporters will examine the economic, cultural and demographic forces re-shaping the region as they drive to Denver for the first of the two major party conventions the Sun will cover.)
TUCSON --Our trip is really showing the prescience of Thomas Schaller's book, "Whistling Past Dixie."
Published a couple years ago, the book makes the argument that Democrats were foolish to spend resources in the South, despite the oft-repeated nostrum that Democrats have only won with southerners since Kennedy. Schaller argued that the South is gone forever and urged the party to put resources into the rapidly changing intermountain West. He looked at changing demographics, the libertarianism of the region that made abortion a good issue for Dems; the lack of significant religious right (outside Utah and a few scattered other places); the Democrats' recent willingness to drop gun control as an issue (Sen. Harry Reid led the way on that one); the increasingly active environmental movements of these states, with newcomers wanting to protect wilderness areas.
Of course, Schaller also got lucky: He couldn't have predicted the extreme rhetoric about Hispanics and immigrants that would take over the Republican Party in many western states and drive away Hispanic voters, nor could he have known that Nevada's early Democratic caucus would drive up registration. To be sure, Sen. John McCain will win one of the big prizes of the intermountain West: Arizona. But the rest of the region, save Utah, is in play, and Schaller was pretty sharp to see this all playing out.