The political dynamics of the fast-changing Mountain West create opportunities in 2012 for both Democrats and Republicans.
Lately, almost all the action in the 2012 campaign has been in the eastern half of the country. But don't forget the West.
It hasn't gotten a lot of candidate attention in recent weeks: Mitt Romney spent the past week in Florida, New Hampshire, and Iowa, while President Obama recently launched his campaign in Ohio and Virginia -- two states that have also seen Romney visits in recent weeks. Last week, Vice President Biden was dispatched to Ohio as well. Romney launched his first general-election television ad last week in Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia -- three states east of the Mississippi River and one just across it.
But as the campaign continues, you can expect to see both candidates look westward to a crop of states that offer a uniquely fluid political dynamic. There are opportunities for both Obama and Romney in what a new book of scholarly essays calls "America's New Swing Region," and they look far different than the Eastern swing states.
Of the six states studied in the book, two, Utah and Idaho, are safely in the Republican column. Two, Nevada and Colorado, are sure to be closely contested. And two others don't currently look like swing states but could turn that way -- New Mexico, which leans blue, and Arizona, which leans red. Despite the state's rightward turn since it went solidly for hometown boy John McCain in 2008, conservative pundit Michael Barone said at a discussion at the Brookings Institution on Friday that he wouldn't rule out Arizona potentially being in play this cycle -- making it the only state Obama lost in 2008 but hopes to win in 2012.