Timothy Egan, an 18-year veteran of the New York Times and specialist on the history of the American West, spoke to a group of approximately 30 people on February 18 on the topic of “Changing Western Politics: How the Sunset Side of the 100th Meridian Became Blue.” Egan discussed various elements of the recently-concluded presidential campaign and raised the question of whether or not the west’s shift to the Democratic side was permanent or merely an anomaly. Though Egan’s speech seemed to lack clear direction at times, the topics examined were still thought-provoking, and many of his points will surely strike fear into the heart of many a Republican.
The Western Enterprise Reporting Fellow at Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West began by describing Barack Obama’s somewhat unorthodox campaigning style. Egan pointed to Obama’s contesting the caucuses in Idaho as an example, exclaiming, “People in Idaho didn’t even know there were Democrats in Idaho!” He then described Obama’s unique electoral calculus, which stated that “if you could win Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, you could lose Ohio and still win the presidential election.” Egan argued that this new emphasis on the western states changed electoral politics forever.
Egan went on to describe the Republican Party as the “Party of Yesterday.” Obama managed to capture both the youth vote—the future of the country—and the Latino vote, the fastest-growing segment of the population. Without these two key constituencies, Egan claims, the Republican Party is doomed to irrelevance. However, Egan did concede that national trends can change swiftly and unexpectedly, and thus what may seem like a certainty now might not actually come to pass.
The national reporter then described the volatility of the Democratic Party’s recent successes. He singled out the economy as an issue of central importance in determining Barack Obama’s (and his party’s) political future. “A year from now, Obama could be seen as a great president or as a broken man,” Egan stated. “It depends on the economy.” Egan also mentioned historical political trends as potentially not boding well for the Democrats. “When parties have been out of power for a long time and then gain power, they classically overreach,” he explained. This could cause a backlash against the now-dominant party.
Overall, Egan’s speech was an interesting look at the dynamics of electoral politics and its geographic component. Obama’s focus on the west turned heads and will surely be mimicked by presidential candidates in the future.