Editors NoteJed Layton is a University of Utahstudent reporting from Tempe, Ariz., through the Hinckley Institute of Politics and Shantou University.
TEMPE, Ariz.Blame Ivan McFowell if Sen. Barack Obama wins Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico today. He will take full responsibility if Montana and Arizona go to the Democratic side as well.
McFowell, a junior in sustainability at Arizona State University, and his family moved to Arizona from Southern California four years ago. Along with their surfboards and wet suits, the McFowell family brought their liberal politics to a dry, conservative Mesa neighborhood.
For a few years, we were the only ones on our street voting Democratic, McFowell said. But more people like us have moved here. It is our faultor rather people like usthat the political landscapes of Arizona and the West have changed. Some people dont like our modern ideas, but I think they bring diversity.
What once was a solid red region is turning more and more blue, largely because of an increased number of immigrants from other countries, more people moving from California and the East Coast to find a cheaper lifestyle and more jobs and overall dissatisfaction with the national economy.
Shandon Gordon, a sophomore studying education at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, said his home states of Colorado and Arizona have become more diverse.
Phoenix and Denveralong with (Las) Vegas and Santa Fehave become huge cities with large suburban communities growing each year around them, Gordon said.
He speculated lower home prices than California and the East Coast along with new industry jobs accounts for the cities growth.
Unfortunately, a lot of suburbians will be voting Democratic this year, Gordon said. That is a big change.
Migrating Californians relocate to Colorado more than the other 49 states combined, according to a study by the Brookings Institute. Colorado also has seen an increase in immigrants from Asia, Latin America and Africa. Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada have similarly seen more immigrants registering to vote.
Sasha Gomez, a third-generation Mexican American in recreation management at ASU, said her home of Chandler, Ariz., is a perfect example of suburban politics.
A lot of the older, long time residents are solid, strong Republicans, she said. But because of the economy and recent move-ins, some of the communities are starting to be a little more liberal. But enough to vote for Obama? Who knows?
Gomez said she will be voting for Sen. John McCain this year, but with hesitation. Her roots and social beliefs impacted her decision the most, but she said she was worried about McCains ideas to fix the economy and Americas standing in the world.
Most of my friends and family feel the same way I do, Gomez said. We feel morally obligated to vote conservative but worry that doing so will hurt our economic future.
The shift in demographics has also changed the way the presidential candidates are approaching the West. While the main focus is on states with large amounts of electoral votes, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada have received a lot of attention from both McCain and Obama.
McCain is making the West his final focus. He held rallies in Nevada and New Mexico on Monday night. He hosted a midnight rally Monday in Prescott, Ariz. He will also be in Colorado on Tuesday as polls open.
Pam Walker, a freshman in public affairs at ASU, drove to an Obama rally in Henderson, Nev., last weekend. The Illinois senator has made repeated stops in Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. Walker is thrilled many western states are still undecided, but ot just because many are leaning toward her candidate.
The more swing states there are, the better the race will be run by the candidates, she said. They are paying attention to states, groups and people that before received little or no attention. But now our needs are being addressed, our issues are being looked at by both sides.
Walker guessed the top issue for western voters is the economy, but said they have concerns about other issues as well that the rest of the country does not have.
Immigration reform; water conservation is big; gun control is still a hot topic; U.S. relations with Mexico and other Latin American countries; new energy policies: These will determine how western ballots are cast, she said.