09/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Denver...

I've been doing book events in Montana this week, and one thing I've been telling every crowd is how important they will be in changing the direction of this country. That's no rhetorical pablum - it's real. Not only are Montana's electoral votes now up for grabs, but the state will play a huge role on many major domestic issues in 2009 and beyond. Same thing for the rest of the Intermountain West, which folks are just waking up to as the Democratic convention in Denver approaches. As I show in my newspaper column this week, this region has become the most politically important battleground in the United States. Indeed, in political terms, this vast expanse often billed as American Siberia has become the new Ohio.

According to polls, Barack Obama has a solid shot of winning the 22 Electoral College votes from Montana, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Should he win these states, it doesn't really matter what happens to Ohio's 20 Electoral College votes - he'll be president.

But then what? What will happen to his promises on energy, taxes, trade and health care, and more generally, to the likely election mandate demanding change on all of these issues? Such questions will be determined by the Intermountain West.

Thanks to a mix of critical congressional races and incumbent seniority, the locus of congressional power has now shifted to the Rocky Mountain region. For progressives, this is going to require a shift in focus to grassroots organizing in a place often ignored or disparaged by coastal liberals and Washington Democrats.

Here in Big Sky country, for instance, groups like Forward Montana are going to be absolutely essential to making sure Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D) is a help - not a hindrance - to a progressive election mandate on all the issues his panel oversees. Same thing in New Mexico, because that's where Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman comes from.

While progressives' instincts are to dump a huge amount of cash into top-down, command-and-control organizations in D.C., strengthening the West's under-resourced political infrastructure will now be more crucial than ever. If we want change, it is going to come through both the presidential campaign and the post-election pressure system - and it is going to come through the Rocky Mountain area.

You can read the full column at the Denver Post, Ft. Collins Coloradoan, Lewiston Sun-Journal, TruthDig, Credo Action, In These Times, Alternet or Creators website.

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