Western States Hope There's Political Strength in Numbers Officials from Eight States Meet Today to Talk about an Early March 'Big Sky Primary,' Aimed at Raising West's Clout in Presidential Elections
Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
History has it that protection in the wide open spaces of the old West meant circling the wagons - pulling together to form a united front.
In a modern version of this tactic, a group of Western states - still big on space but relatively sparse on voting population - is making plans to hold a Western primary election designed to attract presidential candidates early in the campaign season.
It's not the knock-out scenery or great skiing that's designed to bring the Al Gores and George W. Bushes to - let's be frank - backwaters like Laramie, Wyo.; Boise, Idaho; or Missoula, Mont., in the dead of winter. Something far more crass is at stake. "Politicians run uphill toward money and they run uphill toward delegates," says Philip Burgess, president of the Center for the New West, a think tank in Denver. The banding together of eight or 10 states to hold their presidential primaries on the same day in early March would make the region even more delegate-rich than California. And, according to a study by Mr. Burgess's organization, at a campaign-advertising cost far less per delegate than in the Golden State. Not just a fly-by For governors across the region, the point is to avoid the frustration of being the place that candidates (and their media tag- alongs) merely fly over on the way to and from California. "The purpose ... is not to replace Iowa or out-New Hampshire New Hampshire, but to make the West a strategic building block in the presidential nomination process," says Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R), who's hosting representatives from eight Western states in Salt Lake City today and tomorrow to discuss the issue. Another point, say advocates, is to get national politicians to pay closer heed to things many Westerners care about - such as nuclear-waste disposal, water rights, Uncle Sam's control of so much of the landscape (most of the land in Western states is federal property), and the need to upgrade national parks. "If we can get a Western states primary, then chances are the person who gets elected president is going to have to pay attention to Western issues for the first time," says New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R). Initially, the plan is to hold the "Big Sky Primary" just after the big primaries in California and New York (and nine other states) scheduled for the first Tuesday in March, but before Super Tuesday, the largely Southern election later that month. …