Hart knows how Dems can win West | VailDaily.com

Hart knows how Dems can win West

Steven K. Paulson
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” Last year, former presidential candidate Gary Hart gave Democrats a manifesto on how to win the West. He argued that eastern Democrats don’t get it when it comes to western issues like water and land management, and they should give up trying to reclaim the South.

Are party leaders ” and Barack Obama ” listening? Hart isn’t so sure.

“I don’t think as an institution the party is listening. Maybe I’m too old and too gray for them to pay any attention,” he said in an interview.

Hart said he wrote the manifesto out of pique because he was tired of being asked by party officials how they could win back the South.

“I said, ‘Hey, hello, there is half the country west of the Mississippi. We can win out there, but it’s on a totally different set of issues,'” Hart said.

Hart, the former Colorado senator whose first run for the White House was derailed by scandal in 1987, gave party chairman Howard Dean a document declaring that “The national Democratic Party should look westward.”

Dean embraced Hart’s tome, saying it was a factor in Democrats’ decision to hold their party convention in Denver.

Hart said he doesn’t know if Obama has read it. He said gave it to Obama’s campaign staff and never heard back.

In the document, Hart told party leaders they should focus on Democratic-leaning states like California, Washington, and Oregon, and potential Democratic states like Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.

Hart seized on several party shortcomings, including a failure to condemn the use of eminent domain to seize private property for business development ” “a substantial opportunity (for the party) to identify itself with a deeply felt western issue,” he said.

Hart said the party hadn’t addressed federal land use problems, noting that “the federal presence is much more real and immediate for westerners, a fact seldom understood by eastern Democrats.”

On balancing growth with environmental protection, Hart warned that “national Democrats have much to learn in this area, as northern Democrats had much to learn about the intricacies of race in the South.”

“The South will return to the Democratic Party only when economic downturn requires it. Meanwhile, the West provides the Democratic Party’s greatest opportunity and represents its greatest future,” Hart declared.

During a recent two-day visit to Colorado, Obama barely addressed these themes. He focused on national concerns, including the Wall Street crisis, after laudatory introductions from prominent Colorado Democrats who praised his understanding of western concerns.

“Obama understands how important resources are on the Western Slope,” a battleground pitting energy development against protecting the environment, Gov. Bill Ritter declared.

During a Sept. 15 visit to Grand Junction ” the first by a Democratic presidential candidate to this conservative bastion since Harry Truman campaigned here 60 years ago ” Obama briefly mentioned renewable energy, the environment, and balanced growth.

He criticized John McCain for suggesting in a newspaper interview he would look at renegotiating the sacred Colorado River Compact to help lower basin states secure water supplies, including his home state of Arizona.

McCain quickly had backed off that statement.

Obama gave similar speeches in Pueblo and Golden, briefly mentioning McCain’s gaffe by declaring that “now McCain wants to monkey around with the water agreements that you depend on for agriculture.”

Hart said Obama wasn’t dodging local issues. Presidential campaigns have changed, he said, and candidates have to respond instantly to a fast-paced world and a national audience.

“You can’t campaign like Harry Truman anymore. You can’t come to the West and get on a train and go to Grand Junction and give the Hart manifesto. It doesn’t work that way anymore,” Hart said.

Kay Simons, a retired teacher who lives in Grand Junction, agreed. She said McCain’s comments about water have become a huge issue on the Western Slope, and she would have liked to hear more about it from Obama. But she understood the need for him to focus that day on the Wall Street meltdown.

“I thought it was a good speech. Just because McCain is from the West doesn’t mean he’s the best person to protect the environment and quality of life,” she said.

In the southern steel town of Pueblo, a Democratic base, the crowd gasped when Obama mispronounced the name of the Southern Ute (YOOT) Indian tribe as he introduced tribal leaders.

Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to win Colorado, in 1992. He narrowly lost to Bob Dole in 1996 despite focusing on state issues. During a 1995 visit, Clinton accused Republicans of “demonizing” his efforts to strengthen the West’s economy and protect its environment. The GOP fought his efforts to increase fees and restrictions on grazing, mining and logging on federal land.

“I have done my best to try to give the West a future and … give you the possibility of a strong economy and a strong environment,” Clinton said.

Floyd Ciruli, a nonpartisan Colorado political consultant to candidates and issue committees, argued that Obama could learn from Clinton’s example. “I think they’ve made a conscious decision to have Obama focus on national issues and let surrogates like Ritter address the local issues,” Ciruli said.

Natalie Wyeth, a spokeswoman for Obama’s Colorado campaign, said she didn’t know if Obama had seen Hart’s memo. She said the fact that Obama spent four days in the West only weeks before the election shows his commitment to the region.

Hart was asked whether it’s smart for Obama to ignore the flap over the Colorado River Compact ” one that could cost him votes in the Southwest.

“I’d probably say, ‘I suppose, but we still would like to hear from you on it.'”

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