Gary Harmon Column September 18, 2008

Obama sets a high mark in Grand Valley

We thought there was a surge in Iraq.

Well, there’s one going on in Mesa County as well, and for the same things: the hearts and minds, to say nothing of the votes, of us all-too-often ignored dwellers here in the hinterlands.

Even the comatose had to be aware that Barack Obama was in town this week, making Grand Junction one of the twin stars of the political universe, the other being Golden, where Sarah Palin was campaigning.

Such visitations are as rare as truth in campaigning (How do you know when a politician is telling the truth? His lips aren’t moving. That holds true today more than ever.).

The political heft of those two heavyweights in Colorado at the same time tells us all we need to know about the significance of the state come November.

So, a few observations, questions and a prediction, though hardly a ground-shaking one.

While the crowd filed out of Cross Orchards after Obama’s speech, the candidate remained for about an hour inside the old farm’s barn, conducting television and radio interviews with an assortment of media outlets.

We’ll never know exactly the value of a televised interview with Barack Obama from an old barn in Fruitvale to far-flung places, but we can certainly surmise it might go over well in rural areas still suspicious of any Chicago politico.

Obama was in Grand Junction to rally local support, but there was much, much more to it than that, like establishing the idea Obama was comfortable in a rural setting.

The last time a Democratic candidate played to a crowd in Grand Junction was when Harry Truman, a sitting president, made a whistle-stop speech. John F. Kennedy came to town to do a television interview, but he didn’t hold a rally for the public to attend.

“It was a long time, you know, before the people east of the Mississippi River could understand that the people out here didn’t wear horns and a tail,” Truman said in his 1948 visit. “Some of them still think that. There are a great many people east of the Appalachian Mountains who are not yet sure that it’s safe to come out West, because they’re afraid Wild Bill Hickok or some Indian chief will scalp them.”

Truman was campaigning against a “Republican do-nothing Congress,” one that got power on a ticket of “change” two years before his Grand Valley visit.

“Well, you got a change in 1946 and look what you got,” Truman said. “You got your reclamation projects cut down. You got your power projects, in most instances, wiped out. Every appropriation that affects the West was slashed, and it was slashed with malice aforethought,” by powerful Eastern interests.

If all that makes 2008 sound strangely like 1946, well, there might be a reason for that.

Like neglect.

Anyway, one wouldn’t know it from recent history, but western Colorado hasn’t always been GOP country.

Truman didn’t ride the rails to talk to a bunch of Republicans, after all.

The only way the GOP can blunt Obama’s Western onslaught is with a political surge.

That means John McCain and Sarah Palin will have to visit. It’s called doubling down, and to win, they’ll have to do it.

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