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Something strange and tangy is happening in the Rocky Mountains. The Democratic Party is being reborn, with a raft of colorful candidates who have won the hearts of independents and moderate Republican voters. As the 2008 presidential campaign begins, there are lessons to be learned here for both national parties, but especially for Democrats, lessons involving both style and substance. The top-line Democratic candidates for President in 2008--people like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards--are a decidedly un-Western crowd. They tend to be coastal, urban, legislative. They tend to talk too formally--and too much about too little. They tiptoe and kowtow when confronted by the gothic array of Democratic interest groups. At a time when political pomp and blab have come to seem prohibitively pompous and bloviational, Rocky Mountain politics is fresh and innovative and fun. It might not be a bad idea for Hillary and Barack and the rest to pause for a moment before the big show starts and take a look at what's happening just west of Iowa, in an electorally overlooked region of the country that just may hold the key to winning the White House in 2008.
There is a distinct Rocky Mountain Democratic agenda, which emphasizes pragmatism and moderation. Some of the issues are local and perennial, including how to manage growth and resources like water in the nation's fastest-growing region. But even the local issues have national implications. There is, for example, a competitive mania among the new Democratic Governors about developing alternative energy sources--especially the region's vast coal reserves and agricultural products. They are staunch fiscal conservatives. In fact, the booming economy has enabled most of the Democratic Governors to lower taxes. Immigration is a huge issue in the region, and the Democrats have profited by supporting comprehensive plans--increased border control, along with guest-worker provisions and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants--that reflect both the growing influence of Latino voters in the region and the needs of the local farming and construction businesses for labor. Democrats also tend to reflect a Western let-and-let-live attitude on social issues like abortion and homosexuality. But given the traditional Western aversion to lockstep conformity, none of the above are hard-and-fast rules.