The plethora of newly minted presidential exploratory committees signals the formalized start of the 2008 election campaign. By all accounts, this race will include a greater use of the internet — and a greater focus on the West.
For Democrats, this means greater attention to Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico — which is good news for California.
The newly announced candidates include New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. If elected, he would become the first Latino president. But Richardson is much more that an ethnic first. He exhibits a rare blend of state, national and international experience. What other governor appears regularly on CNN as a global troubleshooter and analyst?
I had the opportunity to see Richardson “audition” a few months back at the state Democratic Party Finance Council Retreat. In his prepared remarks, during the Q & A, and in private conversation Richardson demonstrated a manner and an intellectual gravitas that bodes well for a White House run.
Party sources indicate that the busiest hub of activity may not be Albuquerque, however, but Las Vegas. Beyond the neon lights and the new construction, there is renewal in party organization that goes beyond anything seen previously in Sin City.
For political junkies, Las Vegas is the new battleground. Over the last decade it has become the most highly unionized city in the U.S., and the union movement is widely seen as a voice for working families and naturalized Latino immigrants.
The state’s changing demographics contributed to the decision by the Democratic National Committee to place it among the select early caucus and primary states. It is hoped Nevada will add both a western and a Latino perspective to the race.
John Edwards is the early presidential favorite in Nevada. His focus on the “two Americas” has natural appeal. More importantly, there is an organizational link.
Consolidation within the labor movement has brought together UNITE (which represents mill workers in the South) with HERE, the hotel workers union that represents most Las Vegas casino workers.
The delegate selection process that partisans are preparing for in Las Vegas will conclude with the party nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. After having the last two conventions in Los Angeles and Boston, it will be nice to travel to Colorado and to see the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
The convention location will send an important message to the West and to non-coastal America. With the Republican decision to go to Minneapolis (to contest the Upper Midwest), Democrats have an opportunity to build on recent successes in a string of states that connect Montana to Arizona.
So how is this good for California Democrats? First, Denver is a great place to visit (I checked it out this past summer). But more importantly, Democrats’ ability to compete successfully for western states will dramatically alter the Electoral College calculus. In addition, to the extent that the party learns how to communicate with non-coastal westerners, the better it will do in Inland California.
Kenneth C. Burt is the political director of the California Federation of Teachers. A graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard University, Burt worked for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and is a board member for the Pat Brown Public Policy Institute. The author of a number of books and articles on California history, Burt may be reached at KennethBurt.com.