- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2008

If you did not know Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County - the most densely populated jurisdictions in solidly Republican Utah - had Democrat mayors, you will by the end of the Democratic National Convention in Denver next week.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon will be among the party’s rising stars from Western states shining at the convention that begins Monday, organizers said.

“Our party has some compelling story to tell about our success in this region of the country - the Rocky Mountain West,” said Democratic National Convention Committee spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth.

In keeping with tradition, top Democratic officials from the host city and state will get a nod at the convention, namely Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr.

However, the spotlight also will shine on the party’s governors from Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming, all of whom snatched the governor’s mansion from Republicans within the past six years.

“That’s a story line we want to promote,” Ms. Wyeth said, adding that the successes grew out of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy” to compete with Republicans nationwide, even in conservative “red states.”

“We can compete anywhere, and we can win anywhere as long as we show up, work hard and we talk about our values,” she said. “We can win up and down the ballot at the local level and the statewide level.”

The Western theme dovetails with the campaign strategy of Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who is poised to accept the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday.

The Obama campaign is targeting Western states, especially Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Nevada, which voted Republican in recent elections but this year are seen as battlegrounds that could deliver critical electoral votes in a close race.

Even if Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Utah are virtually nonexistent, the party plans to revel in the symbolism of Mr. Becker and Mr. Corroon winning elections deep in red Western country.

A Democrat has not carried Utah in a presidential race since 1964, and Republican presidential nominees historically run up their largest margins of victory in the Beehive State. President Bush clobbered Democrat John Kerry by a 46-point margin in 2004.

Convention organizers likely will carve out a prominent role for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the nation’s only Hispanic governor and a one-time presidential candidate. He dropped out of the presidential race in January after finishing fourth in the New Hampshire primary.

He is extremely popular in New Mexico, netting a landslide 69 percent of vote for re-election in 2006, and will lend critical support to Mr. Obama’s effort to carry the swing state.

Mr. Richardson, whose name had been bandied about as a possible pick for vice president or a Cabinet position, provided a key endorsement for Mr. Obama in March at the height of a grueling primary fight with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Attention also will be lavished upon Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who Time magazine named one of America’s Top Five Governors in 2005; Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a farmer and rancher who held no elected office before being elected as his state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years; and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, now in his second term after ending a Republican win streak in 2002.

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