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Western Politics

Brass Tacks

By Bryce E. Nelson

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Earlier this month President Eisenhower telephoned a pep talk to regional Republican conferences at Salt Lake City and Los Angeles urging the delegates to meet the challenge of heavy Republican losses in last fall's election. The Republicans lost six House seats in the 11 Western states, more than their losses in the rest of the country combined. The vote for Republican Congressmen slipped from their 55 percent of the total vote in 1952 to 49 percent in 1956.

Eisenhower himself carried all 11 Western states, but while his portion of the popular vote was rising in the country as a whole from 55.1 percent in the 1952 election to 57.3 percent in '56, it dropped in the West from 57.3 percent to 56.3 percent. The West was the only region in the country which like Ike less after four years. The President's decline was most marked in Idaho and Oregon, in both of which his percentage of the popular vote slipped about five percent.

Of the eight Senate seats at stake, the Democrats took six, giving them control in Washington. One of these was in highly conservative Idaho, which has never re-elected a Democratic Senator. Four Western states provided six new Representatives, three more than the rest of the nation.

While the Republican vote has been slipping for Congress in the West--seven percent in California, eight percent in Colorado, and 14 percent in Oregon, since the 1952 elections--the Democrats have progressed on the state level as well. In Arizona and Washington they made a clean sweep of state offices, while in New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, and Colorado they captured all but one. The Democratic Party also either captured or held one or both houses of state legislatures in eight Western states. In Colorado they won both houses for the first time in twenty years, in Oregon for the first time since 1878, and in California the Democrats tied for control of the Senate which had been controlled by the GOP since 1889.

Democratic gains were also noted in country and local elections in every state but Utah. This was the only Western state in which the Republicans gained strength, attributable to very poor Democratic organization and the increased popularity of the GOP among the Mor-mons, who comprise two-thirds of Utah's population. Eisenhower's appointment and apparent approval of Ezra Taft Benson, a high official of the Mormon Church, as Secretary of Agriculture and of Ivy Baker Priest as Treasurer has greatly increased the power of the Republican party in Utah.

Republican National Chairman, H. Meade Alcorn, predicted at the Salt Lake conference that the Republicans would win all seven governorships, eight new House seats and one Senate seat in 1958. He did not specify how this would be done. Of the eight Senate seats, five are currently held by Republicans and three by popular Democrats, Mansfield of Montana, Chavez of New Mexico, and Jackson of Washington. Thirty of the region's 53 House seats are in California, which has shown marked signs of Democratic growth in the past few years.

This Democratic growth, which characterizes all of the West, is often facetiously attributed to the greater virtue and intelligence of the inhabitants of this part of the country, but actually there are more permanent reasons for the rise of the Democratic party in the region. The present administration's antipathy to the development of public power and to the plight of the farmer has certainly been detrimental to the Republican cause, as was especially evidenced in the power-conscious Northwest and in the Rocky Mountain farm states. Other factors are the Administration's unpopular hand-ling of Indian, reclamation, and forest affairs.

The Administration shows no intention of changing its policy on such vital matters as these; and hence, despite the pep talks of Eisenhower and the predictions of Alcorn, the Democrats will very probably retain and even expand their gains in 1958.

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