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How The West Wasn’t Won

In an article at The New Republic, I explore why John McCain has been so vulnerable in his home region, the Interior West.

Why is McCain performing so poorly in his own backyard? In part, he is fighting a Sisyphean battle against the demographic changes in the region. The Census Bureau measures how many people migrate into each state each year. In 2006, half of the top ten fastest-growing states were in the West, ranging from Nevada (3.5 percent) to Colorado (1.9 percent). These new residents generally fall into one of two categories: college-educated white folks from the coasts looking for cheaper housing, better schools, or a higher quality of life–or, Latinos. Both groups are quite friendly to Democrats.

Still, McCain’s politics may also be partly to blame. For one thing, McCain is perceived largely as an insider–the Senator from Washington (D.C.) rather than the Senator from Arizona. The West–particularly the Mountain West–does not like Washington establishment candidates. Consider, for instance, that Bill Clinton–running as an outsider in 1992–won Montana, and came within single digits of George Bush in states like Wyoming and Alaska. By 1996, however, when his incumbency had transformed him into an insider by default, Clinton lost Montana, and was crushed in Wyoming and Alaska by 13 and 18 points, respectively.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.