Grand Junction is the largest town on Colorado’s conservative Western Slope, and a welcome sight after trudging through the all-encompassing barren landscape of eastern Utah.
Dennis Herzog, editor of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, has been in Grand Junction for 29 years. The guy feels like an editor’s editor—there’s even a poster from All the President’s Men in his office.
Herzog thinks that folks out here are tired of the hyper-partisanship of politics—and he’s tired of cable news, which is covering the convention the way it covers everything else—like there’s no such thing as a “minor” story. To him, McCain’s flub about the number of homes he owns is old news. “A story like that dominates the news for days? Gimme a break.”
His paper has endorsed George Bush in the last two elections—also Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat—but the four-member editorial board has yet to make a decision in the '08 race. Grand Junction and its sister communities west of the Continental Divide will likely go to McCain. The long line of towns and cities along the Front Range of the Rockies, including Denver and Boulder, will go for Obama. Herzog says the question is how much ground the candidates can gain in the parts of Colorado where their support is weakest. Neither has spent any time in Grand Junction, he says, which may be a problem for Obama.
Up the street at the smallish local Democratic Party office, organizer Audrey Berry tells me that, if you go by registration alone, this is indeed Republican country. However, there are also a lot of voters who register with one party but don’t vote strictly on party lines, and her colleague, Joyce Olson, who retired here from Grand Junction, says that there are more unaffiliated voters this year than in past elections. (Olson is 76 but doesn’t look a day older than 56.)
Real estate and building permits are down in the city, though a new hospital tower is under construction. But, as in other places along the way, energy is the big deal here. Colorado holds massive reserves of natural gas; for years this has been a contentious issue between drilling companies and residents on the extent and the way drilling should be undertaken. It is, Herzog notes, “the single biggest issue around here.” Olson adds that reports of residents and cattle getting sick because groundwater has been tainted by benzene, while not widespread, are not uncommon, either.
There’s not a lot of renewable energy activity, but there's a whole bunch of coal. And Herzog judges the health of the coal industry by how long it takes the coal trains to cross the road he takes into work. (Answer: quite a while.)
The same morning we passed a well fire in nearby Rulison, visible from the interstate.