New York Post, November 9, 2006
By Ryan Sager
A couple of big things expired Tuesday night: the usefulness of the trite Red/Blue dichotomy in American politics, and the George W. Bush/Karl Rove dream of the Republican Party holding a “permanent majority.”
But one big new thing was born: the interior West (the eight states off the West Coast: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) as America’s new political swing region.
Conservatives may not realize it yet, but all this will benefit the Republican Party in years to come.
Since 2000, President Bush and political guru Rove have pushed a mutant ideology that’s come to be known as “big-government conservatism” — a betrayal of the Reagan/Goldwater legacy, aimed at softening the image of the GOP in the eyes of voters who are culturally conservative but economically liberal. The result: out-of-control domestic spending, out-of-control pork projects and out-of-control corruption among the folks in charge of handing out the bacon.
And all that left the conservative Republican base disgusted with its leaders in Congress and the White House. While Iraq played a key role with voters in the middle, this conservative discontent is an equally big reason why Congress flipped. Evangelicals and weekly churchgoers moved away from the GOP this year, as did self-described conservatives, according to exit polls.
For a couple years, the War on Terror allowed Republicans to believe themselves invincible — able to do no wrong in the face of Democratic fecklessness, slowly painting the map Red. Tuesday’s losses broke that illusion — and provide a tremendous chance for the Republicans to clean house, wash off the stench of corruption and get back to basics as they plot their comeback in 2008.
But Republicans also face a strange new political landscape. Instead of split-in-two, the country now finds itself drawn-and-quartered: the conservative South as solidly Republican as ever, the liberal Northeast more Democratic than ever, the populist Midwest having taken a major turn toward the Democrats, and the libertarian West now up for grabs.
This last is perhaps the strangest of all for Republicans: The West used to be solid GOP territory. It’s been wavering recently, and after Tuesday, it’s a full-blown swing region:
* In Arizona, the GOP lost two House seats, one open, one J.D. Hayworth’s. Running as immigration restrictionists didn’t save either Republican.
* Arizona’s Senate race was also relatively tight: GOP incumbent Jon Kyl hung on with 53 percent to 44 percent against Democrat Jim Pederson. Last time out, in 2000, no Democrat even filed to run against Kyl; he won with 79 percent of the vote against minor-party candidates.
* Arizona this year also became the first state to vote down a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one and one woman.
* In Colorado, Democratic Attorney General Bill Ritter beat Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez to win the governorship. Democrats now hold five of the eight governorships in the interior West — up from zero in 2000. A cow can now wander from Canada to Mexico without setting hoof in a GOP-governed state.
* Democrats picked up an open, previously Republican House seat in Colorado — and nearly grabbed other seats in Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
* In Montana, GOP Sen. Conrad Burns has likely lost his re-election bid to Democrat Jon Tester (a “netroots” favorite).
So, out of the gate in 2008, Arizona and Colorado (at the very least) will represent new battlegrounds, not safe GOP territory — a huge change.
Democrats’ territory expanded in this election, while the GOP’s contracted. If the Republicans want to avoid being pigeonholed as a party of the South, they’d better start figuring out how to re-win the West.
Ryan Sager’s new book is “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party.”