01/13/2007 07:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Understanding the West: Some Tools for Democrats

Now that Democrats have thankfully selected Denver as the site of the 2008 convention, we can expect a glut of stories from the national press corps about Democrats and their prospects in the Mountain West. These stories will undoubtedly be filled with cliches, from East Coast reporters being fascinated that people actually own guns out here, to narratives about how supposedly only Manly Men can win elections in this region. I'm guessing that embedded in many of these stories will be, as usual, latent cultural elitism - a subtle disbelief by coastal/urban reporters that people actually live out here, and actually live in a different way. I'm betting there will also be shock that supposedly "red" states out here are serious about being opposed to things like the Patriot Act and excessive corporate power - many reporters and politicians in D.C. are so used to seeing everything through red and blue lenses, they have become unable to really understand that such an outlook distorts how the real world works.

For those who are interested in how politics really works out here, let me make a few suggestions about how to get the real facts, rather than the cartoonish, inaccurate and often insulting storylines about this region's politics (this is by no means a comprehensive set of tools - just the main ones I rely on, living out here in Helena).

First, get used to reading Left In the West, Western Democrat, and the websites of both Progress Now and Democrats For the West. Also, make New West one of your bookmarks, and look at the big alternative weekly papers like the Missoula Independent and Westword, to name a few. And of course, stop obsessing over the New York Times and the Washington Post, and take a look at the big regional newspapers that people actually read out here like the Lee Newspapers, the Idaho Post Register, the Casper Star-Tribune, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Rocky Mountain News and others.

Finally, forgive my self promotion, but let me suggest you read three of the many pieces I've written on the "Democrats in the West" phenomenon, derived from my time working in politics out here. The first is called "Top Billings," which appeared in the Washington Monthly and looked at the 2004 campaign here in Montana. The second is called "The Democrats Da Vinci Code," which appeared in the American Prospect, traced the similarities in Democrats' campaigns all over the region and showed how many of these Western themes can unify the entire party in all regions, if Democrats can subdue their corporate factions. Finally, there was a piece called "Red + Green = Blue" in In These Times looking at Western efforts to forge new coalitions around conservation.

The West is a great place to live, and is a fascinating region. I am, by no means, a major "expert" (unlike many in Washington, D.C. who call themselves "experts" for no reason at all, I wouldn't dare call myself that after only doing two campaigns out here, and only living full-time out here for two years). That said, I know enough to know that there's a lot of misinformation out there about this region - and that if Democrats really want to win this region for the long-term, we have to avoid getting distracted by the cliches, and really focus in on how this place really works. I hope I've you can use these tools I've given you here to do just that.