Westward, huh?

Where have all the candidates gone?

December 2007

After Denver won the right to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention in January, media and politicians hailed the move as a momentous geographical party realignment. Howard Dean, the party's chairman, told local news outlets that the Democratic Party was replanting its flag in the West. Rep. Diane DeGette, Denver's congresswoman, proclaimed, "If a Democrat is going to win the presidency in 2008, our party will have to embrace the West." 5280 even chimed in: "By holding their convention in Denver, they've signaled to the country that they're marching, knees high, into the West."

Even so, the primaries still rule the process. Almost a year after landing the convention, Westerners are as neglected as a vegetarian at a pig roast. Neither the Democrats, who were crowing about their Western strategies in January, nor the Republicans, who have dominated the mountain West for 50 years, have paid us any attention.

Consider: Since January, presidential contenders have flocked to the traditional early primary battlegrounds, hosting more than 1,430 events in Iowa and visiting New Hampshire more than 690 times. By comparison, eight presidential wannabes have hosted a grand total of 22 events in Colorado. From mid-August to mid-October, not a single candidate visited our convention-holding state.

But hey, we're getting more attention than Montana. Only two candidates have bothered going to Big Sky country. Idaho isn't much higher on the totem pole, with only four candidate-attended events this year. Nevada, on the other hand, is holding an early primary, and has drawn more than 100 events by Oval Office wannabes. And California, with its deep-pocketed Hollywood donors and massive electoral influence, has hosted more than 250 events and fund-raisers, rivaling another early primary state, South Carolina.

So where's the love for Colorado and most of its Western brethren? Democratic Convention CEO Leah Daughtry says the lack of attention is simply necessary strategy by candidates who are forced to focus on the primary calendar. Democrats are committed to Western issues, Daughtry says, and the proof lies not in the primaries but in the selection of a Rocky Mountain state to host the convention. "When we made the decision about where to have the convention, there really was no better place to embody the 50-state strategy," she says, referring to Dean's goal to place Democratic Party organizers in every state, even the so-called red ones.

That decision becomes especially savvy when the convention host state is growing purpler with every election cycle, says Scott Adler, a University of Colorado political science professor. "The reason they've chosen [Denver] is because [Democrats] want to keep that momentum going, and they want to win Colorado if they can," he says. "So they will focus some attention here because they think it's a winnable state. And, of course, that will force Republicans to react to that."

The onslaught of early primaries in 2008 may end up having one benefit for Denver: With so much dead time between the declaration of a presumptive nominee and the actual convention, says Adler, the parties will be looking for ways to maintain the public's excitement. That means pumping up the upcoming convention, and, by extension, the city, state, and issues that surround it. "From a general Democratic Party perspective, we would look for issues around energy, environmentalism, land use, and water issues to be really front and center," Adler says.

So, Colorado, don't worry about missing the state-fair handshaking and the town halls. Come April or May next year, when the candidates are decided, all eyes will turn to Denver, and we may finally get some of that long-awaited attention.