Back in January, the Democrats announced that Denver would host their 2008 nominating convention, in a nod to the fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters who helped deliver 2006's Democratic victories in America's libertarian Mountain West - including a Senate seat in Montana, two House seats in Arizona, and one House seat in Colorado. But a little bit more than a month later, it looks like this may be all that Democrats plan to do to attract these voters to the party in 2008.
After all, their top three candidates for president leave a lot to be desired from the perspective of libertarian-minded Democrats, and the one presidential candidate who fits the western Democrat mold - Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico - is garnering little attention in the media and no substantial support among traditional Democratic primary voters or donors.
This is a surprising oversight on the part of Democrats because, according to the libertarian Cato Institute, Democrats have made real gains in attracting the support of libertarian voters in recent years, partially as the result of good candidate-recruitment out West and partially because the Republican Party has done so much to trash its reputation for fiscal responsibility.
Whereas the roughly 13% of the American electorate that could be described as libertarian supported George W. Bush over Al Gore by 72% to 20% percent in 2000, by 2004, Mr. Bush's margin among these voters had dropped to just 59% to 38% over Senator Kerry.
More significantly, according to Cato, between the 2002 and 2006 mid-term elections, libertarian voters went from favoring Republicans over Democrats by a margin of 47 percentage points to favoring them by just 23 percentage points. In other words, Democrats are winning in part because they've been gaining ground with libertarians.
That trend, however, could be brought to a halt in 2008. Just look at the potential nominees.
First, we have Senator Clinton, master of the big-government welfare state, with its price tag to be paid for with tax increases. Despite all her positioning as a centrist Democrat, she's voted against repeals of the death tax and deficit reduction bills, as well as free trade legislation. She's anti-gun with a vengeance and has an F rating from the NRA (a big no-no in the pro-gun West). And, of course, any libertarian voter who was paying attention during the 1990s still remembers and fears HillaryCare.
Then, we have the former senator from North Carolina, John Edwards. During his Senate days, he was one of the most fiscally conservative Democrats. But, since then, he's jumped on the loony-Left bandwagon, bashing Wal-Mart, personally leading a new War on Poverty, and championing tax hikes and large-scale redistribution of wealth. He's also no friend of gun owners, with his 2002 and 2003 77% ratings from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
And, finally, we have Senator Obama, the man who has served a grand total of two years in the Senate and in that time has voted against every notable bill that would cut taxes. He said during his 2004 campaign for Senate that he would roll back the Bush tax cuts. And, during that same campaign, his opponent blasted him for voting for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax increases and pushing costly new government programs. He also shares the distinction with Mrs. Clinton of an F rating from the NRA.
With these three topping the bill, it's hard to see which candidate on the Democratic side has any ability to change the map in 2008 — at least as far as the West is concerned. After all, Sen. Kerry only would have needed 70,000 voters in New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada (folks who, presumably, want to keep both their money and their guns) to flip the electoral college in 2004. Perhaps the Democrats would do well to consider someone with a proven record as a libertarian, and not a liberal, Democrat: someone like Bill Richardson.
Mr. Richardson scored third best of any Democratic governor for overall current-term performance on Cato's 2006 Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors. He earned a better grade than 37 other Governors, including 20 Republicans, in part because, during his tenure, New Mexico's top marginal income tax rate has dropped a remarkable 35%.
Mr. Richardson also brings good credentials where immigration, guns, and social issues are concerned. He declared a border emergency in his state in 2005 (so he's no immigration softie), and he voted against the Brady Bill and other gun control initiatives while in Congress. Yet, Mr. Richardson also has solid, moderate, pro-choice credentials, and is not a proponent of constitutional bans on gay marriage or civil unions.
Mr. Richardson's record and his views could resonate with libertarian Democrats, and that's something that should give Democratic Party bigwigs pause for thought.
The Democratic Party has the opportunity to bring the fight to Republicans if they nominate someone like Mr. Richardson, who can compete with a Rudy Giuliani or a John McCain for liberty minded voters. Alternately, by ignoring Mr. Richardson, Democrats will be giving Republicans a free ride with a group they've been doing their darndest to alienate for the last seven-plus years.
It's a gift the Republicans will take. But there's little reason for the Democrats to give it.