DENVER – A political generation ago, the West signaled the nation’s rightward swing, from the emergence of Ronald Reagan to the success of tax-limitation ballot measures in California and Colorado.
Now, however, the fabled expanse of deserts, jagged peaks and emerald coastlines is trending in a different direction.
The West has become largely Democratic terrain.
Voters in Washington state in November legalized marijuana and upheld the legality of gay marriage. New Mexico was once a tightly contested state, but Republicans ceded it to Democrats in the presidential campaign.
There are, as always, exceptions.
Lightly populated Idaho and Wyoming remain strongly Republican, as does Utah. Democrats are struggling in Arizona, where the immigration debate has given Republicans a lock on statewide offices but may provide Democrats an opening by firming up their support among the state’s growing Hispanic population.
Still, the overall trend is clear, according to analysts on all sides of the political spectrum.
It’s just a different world, said Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist in Los Angeles who has worked widely in the region. Nevada became the next California, and now Arizona looks like it will become the next Nevada. ... It’s just pushing the West further and further from Republicans.
The shift in a region already imbued with a libertarian spirit is the result of several factors. One is the growing number of people who are seeking a better quality of life by moving from more liberal states. Also, the expanding immigrant population is turned off by increasingly hard-line Republican immigration proposals.
Look at the migration patterns, said Sig Rogich, a Republican consultant in Las Vegas who worked on Reagan’s presidential campaigns. You’re seeing the aftermath of a new generation of young men and women whose parents moved westward.
Most local elections are nonpartisan affairs and voters often have the right to set policy unilaterally via ballot initiative.
The West is the most American part of America, said Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank in Denver. It is a place where you have much more respect for individual choice and you have more ability to be who you want to be.
AlsoHarkin won’t seek 6th Senate term
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Saturday he will not seek a sixth term in 2014, a decision that eases some of the burden the national Republican Party faces in retaking the Senate.
Harkin, 73, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced his decision during an interview with The Associated Press, citing his age – he would be 81 at the end of a sixth term – as a factor.
The news came a day after GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia announced he will not run for a third term next year, avoiding a likely fight with the tea party for the Republican nomination.
Chambliss, 69, has been a GOP loyalist for much of his House and Senate career, but he earned the wrath of some in his party for participating in a bipartisan Senate Gang of Six intent on finding a way to reduce the deficit.