Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He Was Too Liberal?

In today's issue of The Washington Post, T.R. Reid takes a look at the growing success of Democrats in the Mountain West, focusing specifically on the party's decision to host its nominating convention in the heart of the region, Denver, in 2008. Reid lists off the Democrats' achievements in the Mountain West in recent years -- gaining control over five of the region's eight governnorships, picking up five new congressional districts in the House, winning two new Senate seats -- while also mentioning their setbacks on the presidential level, which some apparently chalk up to the ideology of the party's nominee.

"There was nothing wrong with that strategy [of focusing on Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico]," said Denver-based Democratic consultant Terry Snyder. "The votes could be there, for the right candidate. But a liberal senator from Massachusetts turned out to be the wrong guy to make the sale in the West."

While at least some of the culpability for Senator Kerry's inability to carry any states in the Mountain West in 2004 must lie with the candidate himself and even some of the stances that he took, both during the campaign and over the course of his career in the Senate, it's not clear to me that it is necessary for a Democratic consultant to reinforce Republican talking points by specifically blaming liberalism.

This fall, Jon Tester ran as a decidedly not-conservative candidate, opposing the Patriot Act and supporting a woman's right to choose, to take just two examples, yet he won a Senate election in Montana, a state supposedly more conservative than others in the region like Nevada or Colorado. In Arizona, which was the birthplace of Goldwater conservatism, two unabashed Democrats won House elections, the Democratic Governor won reelection by a wide margin and a ban on same-sex marriage went down in flames this year. Wyoming saw a Democratic Governor reelected and a fairly progressive Democrat nearly elected to the U.S. House. In short, Democratic candidates who have been true to their beliefs, be they progressive or liberal, have performed extraordinarily well in recent cycles -- not losing as a result of their departure from third way centrism.

I understand that what plays in Foxboro might not always play in the Phoenix. Yet liberalism (or progressivism) is not the type of drag on Democratic candidates in the Mountain West, or indeed other regions of the country presumed to be more conservative, that conventional wisdom might indicate. And Democratic consultants in the region would be well served by trying to build on the party's successes rather than sniping at the ideological underpinnings of the party platform.

Tags: Democrats, Ideology, John Kerry, The West (all tags)

Comments

30 Comments

Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

I don't know if it was that he was a liberal, so much as he was a "stereotypical" liberal, if that makes any sense. His tendency to be wordy during the campaign, sounding more like a professor than anything, at times turned people off.

by Dave Sund 2007-01-13 10:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

Exactly. If you pack up the message right, then it will be more effective. It was the messenger, not the message that was the problem.

People like Webb actually acted more liberal than their old selves and won because they targeted the right wing flaws of their opponents. But Webb does not come across as your much maligned "northeastern" liberal symbolized by the likes of Dukakis.

Kerry also hurt his cause with his track record prior to the primaries. He went after Dean hard. It's true he did a great turnaround and was one of the better politicians at giving Dean his respect, but he did not command the STRONG  of many progressives back in 2004. SO he was neither here nor there.

by Pravin 2007-01-13 10:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He
Hundreds of Bay Area Californians went to Reno and Sparks to help Dems in northern Nevada with voter reg. and canvassing.
John Kerry carried very conservative northern Nevada by 47%.  Harry Reid had said before the election that if Kerry took n.Nevada by 41%, the state would be Kerry's.  
However, the southern part of the state was not well organized and there may have been Diebold voting in Las Vegas.
by hawkseye 2007-01-13 11:57AM | 0 recs
I want to flesh out this idea.

Liberalism CAN play well in the West, whether of the populist or of the San Francisco personal lifestyle kind. The West has long had a get-the-government-off-my-back attitude that Reagan effectively played to. This can mean different things: hunters as pro-gun supporters, or libertarians as abortion right supporters.

I noticed something interesting when looking at some Kerry-Bush electoral results within certain districts and sub-districts in Colorado. In a way, Kerry did better in wealthier Denver suburbs, even Republican ones, when compared to more working class areas, which would normally vote a bit more Democratic. I saw a similar split when those areas vote on gay rights (marriage ammendment) as well, meaning that the issues people responded to fall along class lifestyle or cultural lines, rather than economic ones.

This says to me that Bush's marketing succeeded in painting GWB as a good-ol-boy, and Kerry as an elitist. I think this is about class values more than political values.

The Iraq war as an issue also has some class-interactions. Lower-information but "loyal 'Mericans" who might normally vote Democratic, went for Bush, but higher-information (newspaper readers in the wealthier suburbs), worried more about the war.

by MetaData 2007-01-13 03:04PM | 0 recs
Re: I want to flesh out this idea.

Considering Bush politics is more anti-working class than any Democrat's, this disparity really has to be worked on.  

by RickD 2007-01-13 04:26PM | 0 recs
Re: I want to flesh out this idea.

With the news media being dominated by right-wing nosepickers, there's not much that can be salvaged for Dems in the media until the leaders of the national party recognize the need for media reform.

by lightyearsfromhome 2007-01-13 04:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

You're ignoring the second part of the statement---"from Massachusetts."  I do think that resentment of the "coastal elites" is real (although somewhat diminished).  

I think liberalism can sell---certainly its positions poll very well.  But I think that Chris Dodd (to take an example from this year's candidates) would be a poor salesman.  John Edwards, however, would be a good one, even though he is probably more liberal than Dodd.  

by bosdcla14 2007-01-13 10:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

The part of the quote to focus on is not the "liberal" part, but the "from Massachusettes" part.  John Kerry was seen as a NE Liberal Elite.  It wasn't his message, it was geography.

by noneed4thneed 2007-01-13 10:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

I think it was the flip-flop stuff that killed him out west. I'm a big fan of the straight talk/bold action strategy and Kerry ran the exact opposite.

Tester would look people in the eye and tell them what he wanted to do and people believed him and respected him even if they disagreed with him.

Also, there is a resentment factor with east coast elitism.

by Bob Brigham 2007-01-13 10:37AM | 0 recs
The Arizona ban

probably only failed because it also limited heterosexual rights. in 08, when it focuses only on gays, it will almost certainly pass.

by tigercourse 2007-01-13 10:37AM | 0 recs
Re: The Arizona ban

you're insulting the intelligence of the voters.  Wisconsin's ban language that passed 57% in 2006 was verbatim to Arizona's language.  If what you're saying is true and it isn't due to Arizona's libertarianism, then the Wisconsin vote wouldn't have been so disparate.

Every voter in Arizona was focused on the gay thing.  That's all that shone through.

by jgarcia 2007-01-14 08:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

I have to agree with the other responses that Kerry's image was his problem.  Not to mention he never showed up to sell his message in states that could have been won like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Dean is wise to hold the convention in the West.  His hard work in building up the state parties in these states may make the difference in the Presidency in 08.  The more states the Republicans have to play defense in the better our chances of winning.

by blueryan 2007-01-13 10:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West

Kerry showed-up in New Mexico.  

He was a wet fish Blah-blah-blah-boring-boring-boring
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

His campaign was unorganized:  no sign-up booths at the rally, no campaign workers trying to get people to volunteer, no campaign literature being handed out, no bumber stickers, no yard signs.  

They had 7,000-12,000 potential workers there and did nothing to bring people in.

Oh.  They sold buttons.  And gave away a 3 inch sticker.  

Dippie-whoop.

NewsFlash:  If you don't know what you are doing then you can't do it.  The Kerry Campaign didn't have clue one about establishing and running a mass, multi-level, marketing organization -- which is, after all, what the Presidential election is all about.

by ATinNM 2007-01-13 12:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West

Of course, that had nothing whatsoever to do with the self-righteous (and self-excusing) Terry McCauliffe's DNC.  What exactly had they been doing in the West since 2000 (and even before) to build up the party?  What structure did Kerry have to build on?  Nada, as your post stated.

How long was McCauliffe in charge of the DNC?  And how long was Kerry a presidential candidate?  The math is real simple.

by Diane 2007-01-14 02:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

This fall, Jon Tester ran as a decidedly not-conservative candidate, opposing the Patriot Act and supporting a woman's right to choose, to take just two examples, yet he won a Senate election in Montana, a state supposedly more conservative than others in the region like Nevada or Colorado

Baucus has received 100% ratings from NARAL just about every year for the last 11 years, save one.

Rather than examining core liberal issues, I think the key paragraph in the WaPo article is:

Although the West is famous for offering "land, lots of land, 'neath the starry skies above," the population is heavily urbanized. Most people -- and, thus, most of the congressional seats -- are clustered in and around cities, such as Denver, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City and Boise. Those urban centers, their populations swelling with Hispanics, have become deep wells of Democratic votes.

MT is something of an outlier since its population is fairly homogeneous (92.5% white). As I recall from watching the Tester/Burns debate, their positions on immigration/border control were virtually identical and probably not a good match for a "western Democratic strategy."

by dblhelix 2007-01-13 10:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

I think Baucus and choice is a poor example because Baucus is extremely conservative and personal freedom is a good thing to push out west.

As for the immigration debate, while you are right about Montana I think you place too much emphasis on the issue to conclude that Tester isn't a good match. On a lot of issues, especially identity issues, I think Tester would be a good example but Schweitzer is still the best example.

Despite all the DC rhetoric that gets printed, I believe that westerners are likely to judge people not by a readiness to compromise but by what they refuse to compromise on. While people may disagree on single issues, if they respect the person they will follow.

by Bob Brigham 2007-01-13 11:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

Despite all the DC rhetoric that gets printed, I believe that westerners are likely to judge people not by a readiness to compromise but by what they refuse to compromise on. While people may disagree on single issues, if they respect the person they will follow.

I don't believe this atttitude is unique to the west.

The only thing still providing Dubya any support above Cheney's truly dismal approval rating is that hangover belief that he's a 'moral' person and governs by the strength of his convictions. All of it a carefully-crafted lie that 70% can now see through to some extent. Another 12% refuse to release that preconception. The actual floor is 18%, Cheney's approval rating (last I saw).

by lightyearsfromhome 2007-01-13 04:48PM | 0 recs
Re: You Cannot use 2006 Wave as a Accurate

I don't think the 2006 Historic National Democratic Wave is a good measurement of actual Democratic success in the West, Midwest & the South.

Are we gaining ground in these regions? Absolutely! No doubt about it.

But keep in mind that Tester, Webb & McCaskill won by a hairline. If this was any other election, Burns, Allen & Talent would have most likely pulled it off.

Bush caused the defeat of these candidates. Even Ford would have not been as competitive if this was a regular election.

While Napolitano is a popular incumbent with both a record & an image of being a Moderate Democrat.

2008 is really a better measurement of how well Democrats are really doing in these regions.

Republicans, Independents & Democrats are expected to vote in big numbers because of the Presidential race.

by livyoga 2007-01-13 11:32AM | 0 recs
Re: You Cannot use 2006 Wave as a Accurate

2008 has a good chance of being a lot like 2006. The Iraq war isn't going anywhere and whoever the GOP nominee is won't be able to run away from it.
Also, if you look at how many under 30 voters identify with the Democrats and the term liberal, the demographics for a long term realignment become even more compelling.

by herbal tee 2007-01-13 01:38PM | 0 recs
It wasnt liberalism so much

as it was John Kerry who lost the West. He hardly campaigned in the West, and doing so was not enough to overcome his lack of speaking charisma, inability to clearly articulate his vision, and his "appearance" as an East Coast liberal elitist. Once people see that a candidate fits a caricature that they don't like, they'll stay away. Sometimes its just that simple.  

by mihan 2007-01-13 11:37AM | 0 recs
He Did Campaign Out West Early On

And was doing pretty well.  In early July, he was up several points, and had a clear lead in electoral votes.  He was talking about values in Colorado  (they're what you do, not what you say, he learned the value of service from his parents, etc.), and it was resonating.  Then he stuck his head up his ass--as per Bob Shrum--and everything went South.  Which didn't turn out so well.

If (a) the message had stayed the same, (b) Bob Shrum had been sent to Antartica, (c) Kerry had embraced his whole record (along the lines that Arianna Huffington had suggested, for example) rather trying to pretend he'd never spoken out against the Vietnam War and never investigated anything in the Senate, and (d) resources and time had been spent more in the West and less in the South, then Kerry could well have picked up several more Western states, as well as Ohio (where a-c all made a big difference, IMHO).

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-13 05:57PM | 0 recs
Tester never went sailing with JFK and Jackie

by Cyt 2007-01-13 11:50AM | 0 recs
Because He Was Too Liberal?

It couldn't have had anything to do with things like this:

http://www.foxnews.com/images/142098/7_2 3_102104_kerry_hunting.jpg

by Vox Populi 2007-01-13 01:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He
Kerry Lost New Mexico Becuase:
  1.  He was from Massachusetts and it was always obvious.
  2.  He was one of the Eastern Elite.
  3.  He was not pro-life.  Hispanic Dems deserted him.  Solidly Democratic, Hispanic and Catholic counties undervoted consistently because of his stance on abortion.
  4.  He ran a lousy campaign in NM.  He sent in a bunch of DC blowhards who thought NM was populated with yahoos.  They were the yahoos and they screwed up.
by DemOutWest 2007-01-13 07:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

>>> He was not pro-life.  Hispanic Dems deserted him.  Solidly Democratic, Hispanic and Catholic counties undervoted consistently because of his stance on abortion.

Sorry, no dice.  With all due respect, this statement is horseshit.

by jgarcia 2007-01-14 08:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He
no.  it's because he never really paid attention to the west and he acted stupid regarding the swifties.  He lost repsect during that.
I believe he lost many votes when he did not go after the swifties.
and let's face it, he wasn't our real choice.  We went for someone we thought was electable not someone we could get behind.
We took the most establishment (and boring) one we could find.
If we went for who we wanted it'd be president Dean right now.
by vwcat 2007-01-13 07:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

I forgot to state:  I think many people thought of having to listen to this windbag drone on and on during televised speeches and just couldnt' do it.

That's why I am a huge supporter of Obama this time.  He is hope, passion, inspiration, energy and the future.

by vwcat 2007-01-13 07:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose the West Because He

First, I wouldn't trust anything Terry Snyder says.  Second, Kerry didn't pay much attention to the West.  All the eggs were put in the Ohio and Florida basket.

by Marylander 2007-01-13 07:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Did John Kerry Really Lose

Well, if anything "cost Kerry the west", aside from time & money, it was the same thing that cost him anywhere else he lost. He wasn't very good at pretending there are simple answers to complicated questions. I find that to be one of his best traits.

The public was being saturated with "terror alerts", continually encouraged to "support the troops" and was being told "we're winning the war in Iraq".  People thought what Bush was doing was working, and that changing the leadership in the midst of a war was not a good idea.

The "war on terror" was all Bush had, and once people started seeing through it-- which they had to do for themselves, no candidate could make them do that-- it's no wonder his support fell apart so quickly.

2004 was not 2006, and no amount of wishful thinking will make up for that.

by nick carraway 2007-01-14 05:45AM | 0 recs
Not any one thing.

It's not any single thing that cost Kerry the election.  It's how the different parts fit together as a whole.

Northeasterner.
Democrat.
Rich.
Wooden.  

Specific events on the campaign trail.
How he handled them.

Less attentive, less informed voters (i.e. most of the electorate whose idea of a good time doesn't include CSPAN), get a "sense" or a "feel" about a person based on these things and how they fit -- or don't fit -- together.  

Some elements are fixed but you change their meaning by juxtaposition (a.k.a. framing).  Kerry needed a better understanding of how others saw him and awareness of what he could do to make himself a better candidate.

by chicago jeff 2007-01-14 03:21PM | 0 recs

Diaries

Advertise Blogads