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.