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Affluent voters bolting from GOP
Nick Juliano
Published: Friday November 16, 2007
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We've all heard the old adage: The Republicans are the party of wealthy plutocrats concerned with paying as few taxes of possible, while Democrats' economic populism appeals to middle- and lower-income voters struggling to pay their bills and send their kids to college.

New polling data, and interviews with voters, shows that paradigm may be shifting in at least one Western state that political analysts believe may play a key role in next year's presidential election, the Wall Street Journal reports Friday.

The paper's John Harwood compares two voters in Denver at either end of the economic spectrum to illustrate the shifting trends.

"The Democratic Party stands more for creating equal opportunity," says Jim Kelley, who buys companies for the $7 billion private-equity firm Vestar Capital Partners, which is headquartered on New York's Park Avenue.

Angela Williams, a city bus driver whose route passes Kelley's Denver office building, earns $39,000 a year, but she tells Harwood that social issues and tax cuts are her primary issues.

"I'm pro-life," she declares to Harwood. "Basically, that's why I'm Republican."

Williams, who lives in a working class neighborhood also agrees with GOP attacks on Democrats' economic policies.

"Democrats are all for social programs which raise my taxes," Williams says. "I'm not working to pay for people to sit at home watching cable all day."

Kelley has a much more nuanced approach to economic policy, and he says pocketbook issues are low on his priority list. Kelley tells Harwood the Democratic Party "speaks to me on issues of the environment, and even more to me on national security." To Kelley, the Republicans are too concerned with "so-called moral issues" like gay marriage.

The two vignettes illustrate an emerging trend that seems to indicate both Republicans and Democrats are voting more with their hearts than their wallets. Harwood illustrates the trend.

In the 2004 election, exit surveys showed President Bush defeated John Kerry by 58% to 41% among those earning more than $100,000. In 2006, Republican House candidates edged Democrats among that group by 51% to 47%. Now the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll shows Americans earning more than $100,000 want Democrats to win the White House next year by 48% to 41%, and want Democrats to win control of Congress by 45% to 42%. Campaign-finance data represents another yardstick. The top five Democratic presidential candidates raised $242 million through the first three quarters of 2007, according to Federal Election Commission figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The top five Republican candidates have raised $167 million.

Pundits see shifting population trends changing the political framework in Western states like Colorado and Nevada, which is hosting an early presidential primary. Although states in the mountain west have been solidly red in the last two elections, Democrats hope those states become competitive in the next election.

"The road to the White House will lead directly through the West and directly through Nevada and Colorado," Rep. Ken Salazar (D-CO) said in a conference call Tuesday with reporters, CNN reported.

In Colorado, Democrats prevailed in last year's gubernatorial race when the Democratic candidate -- and now governor -- Bill Ritter opposed GOP tax-limitation measures and pushed government investment in way that appealed to business leaders.

"We found a way to talk about investing in infrastructure that makes sense to the affluent and it makes sense to the business community," Ritter told the Journal.

The shift of affluent voters from the Republican party coincides with its increasing emphasis on "values" issues like curtailing abortion rights, denying marriage for same-sex couples and re-inserting religion into public life.

In Colorado, business leaders still favor generally low taxes, but they are beginning to understand how investment can be beneficial, Neil Westergaard, editor of the Denver Business Journal, tells Harwood.

"Colorado already has low taxes and has always," Westergaard said. "And we began in the 1990s to start feeling the effects of limited tax support for things like higher education and transportation, which coincidentally became more important as economic-development issues for the business community."