The policies of Bruce Babbitt, secretary of the interior during the entire Clinton administration, were widely unpopular in large parts of the noncoastal West, including the interior parts of Washington and Oregon. The unpopularity of these policies helped George W. Bush win record-high percentages of votes in these regions and in 2000 carry every Rocky Mountain state but New Mexico (which he then carried in 2004). By 2008, memory of the Babbitt policies had faded, Democrats had added many new voters (a large percentage of them Hispanic) to the rolls, and Barack Obama carried Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico (19 electoral votes) by comfortable margins and came within a smidgen of carrying Montana (3 electoral votes). He ran behind, but not far behind, in eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, and the Republican margins in those regions did not come close to overcoming the Democratic leads in metro Portland and metro Seattle, as they did in 2000 (18 electoral votes).
Now, it appears that Obama doesn't want to pursue Babbitt-type policies that could damage his popularity in the noncoastal West. That's my conclusion, at least, after reading this roundup of negative reactions by environmental restrictionists to the pending appointment of Sen. Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior. Babbitt, who was from metro Phoenix, favored various restrictions on land use in the West; Salazar, who comes from rural southern Colorado (and is part of a Hispanic family that has lived there for hundreds of years), has opposed at least many of them. Perhaps Salazar will be influenced by the environmental restrictionist culture of Interior Department career employees and follow a Babbitt-like course once in office. But those 40 electoral votes I just mentioned--more electoral votes than any single state but California--suggest Obama wants him to do otherwise. (Hat tip: Marc Ambinder.)
--Read more by Michael Barone.
--Read more about the Obama's transition.
By Michael Barone