Friday, July 8, 2011

Western States Will Be 2012 Battleground

The West may decide the 2012 presidential election, and it will offer major contests for U.S. Senate and governorships.

The partisan performance in the twelve western states can be divided into the very conservative, very liberal and swing states.  In the conservative states, Republican presidential candidates win easily, and the only recent local contests have been intra-party.  For example, Utah and Alaska in 2010 offered high-profile intra-party senate fights:  Utah’s long-time incumbent Senator Bob Bennett lost in his party’s convention, while Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski reversed a party primary decision by winning as a write-in candidate.

In 2012, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch will face a Tea Party-type challenger in the Republican family and possibly a surprising challenge from a conservative Democratic congressman, Jim Matheson.

In the three states on the Pacific Coast that regularly vote Democratic for president and usually for senate and governor (periodically a liberal Republican can win) – Oregon, Washington and California – only the Washington governor’s race appears competitive in early polls.  The seat is open, but Democrats have dominated the state in recent years.

Diane Feinstein, California senator since 1992, is playing her usual melodrama of indecision about running.  But, she likely will run and be hard to challenge.

The battle in the West, both in the presidential race and for senate and governor seats, tends to be in the five states more south and central and in the center of the political spectrum:  Arizona, Montana, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.  Barack Obama needs to win three, and thinks he might be competitive in four.  Arizona, with Senator John McCain on the ticket, was beyond reach in 2008, but this year it is on the Democrats’ target list.  The contest for the open seat of retiring Senator Jon Kyl is still sorting out.

Montana may offer the fiercest statewide races, although it’s unlikely to be targeted by the White House in a close national race.  Democrat Senator Jon Tester will have a major battle to hold his senate seat, and the governor’s seat is open with the retirement of Democrat Brian Schweitzer.  Republicans believe they can pick up both.

Although there are no major races in Colorado, Obama expects it to be very competitive.  In 2010, Democrats hung on to a senate seat and the governorship with massive amounts of money and well-focused campaigns.

Nevada will see both a major senate battle and a competitive presidential race.

New Mexico has switched sides in the last two presidential races by close margins.  The open senate seat has produced primaries in both parties, highlighting the expected closeness of the race.

Both parties’ presidential campaigns will more than likely target four states in the West – Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.  Also expected to garner national attention are two western governors’ races, four competitive senate races and one senate seat decided by intra-party action.


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