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Democrats’ new drive in red states

Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico, and other states are now in play.

By Staff writer / August 27, 2008

Primary colors: Mississippi delegates Rep. Bennie Thompson (right) and state Sen. David Jordan on the floor of the Democratic convention Tuesday. Democrats hope to win over once reliably red states.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff


Denver – Four years ago, the Democratic Party in Mississippi was struggling to keep its doors open. Today, party leaders here at the Democratic National Convention in Denver are seriously considering turning the onetime red state blue come November.

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With an infusion of enthusiasm and cash from national party during the past four years – the state now has four full-time staff paid by the DNC – Mississippi Democrats won a special election in May 2008, taking a congressional seat that had been reliably Republican for more than a generation. And they believe that’s just for starters.

“We also stand a very good chance this time around to elect a US Senator,” says Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) of Mississippi. “And we may even carry this state for Obama.”

That’s a long shot, but four years ago, the very suggestion would have been dismissed as ridiculous. The Democrats had largely written off the South and much of the West. But today, many of those formerly red states such as Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, and North Dakota are competitive. And Democrats are working overtime to turn them blue.

The 50-state strategy

They’ve been aided, in part, by the growing national dissatisfaction with eight years of Republican rule and by demographic shifts that have significantly increased Hispanic voters out west and younger white Democrats in the South.

But many diehard Democrats also credit the party’s 2004 decision to ignore conventional wisdom and engage in a 50-state strategy. If nothing else, it revived a moribund party structure in red states that is now poised to take advantage of the national desire for change.
“When you see Democrats winning special elections in Mississippi and Louisiana that went for Bush at a 60 percent clip [four years ago], it’s clear that’s the 50-state strategy paying off,” says Tom Jensen, communications director of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, N.C. “States like North Dakota and Montana are now legitimately up for grabs.”

In Denver, many of these once ignored red-state Dems are excited, and not just about Barack Obama. Until 2004, delegates from places like Alaska, Mississippi, and Colorado hadn’t seen a Democratic Party chairman in their home state for decades. Suddenly, they began getting regular visits from the new chairman, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Then, to their shock, he also started sending over money and paid staff members.