D -- as in Democrats and Denver

I'm worried that the Democrats are about to make a bad mistake by deciding to hold their 2008 national convention in New York City instead of Denver.

National party chairman Howard Dean promised to choose the convention city by year's end, but decided to wait until early this month after Minneapolis-St. Paul, the third finalist among 35 cities considered, was ruled out when Republicans picked it last September.

Democrats like the idea of New York, where their last presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were nominated in New York in 1976 and 1992 respectively. But the Big Apple is not a sure thing. While it's better suited logistically, financially and labor union-wise, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has questioned whether he could raise the $80-$100 million needed to sponsor the convention with three potential presidential candidates from New York -- Hillary Clinton, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Gov. George Pataki -- competing for campaign dollars. Bloomberg is acutely aware of the financial shortfalls of the last two Democratic conventions in Los Angeles in 2000 and Boston in 2004.

At the same time, the Mile High City has its problems, including questions about adequate hotel space for 35,000 convention visitors, raising the necessary money, and possible labor strife with few unionized hotels and some local unions refusing to promise not to strike the Pepsi Center during the convention, which Debbie Willhite, the D.C. political consultant who heads the Denver host committee, calls "a deal breaker."

Nevertheless, I think Democrats are missing a bet if they don't choose Denver. What better place for the party to stake a claim in the once-red-but-increasingly-blue Rocky Mountain West? It's got a world class airport, spectacular scenery and some of the friendliest people on earth. (Not like the classic story of the tourist who asks a New Yorker, "Can you tell me how to get to the Empire State Building, or should I just go f--- myself?")

Also, Denver easily handled 30,000 convention goers at an electronics expo in September, and the city's new 19-mile light rail system puts dozens more hotels within easy reach of downtown. It's got first-rate restaurants and night life, a sensational new art museum and big league sports with the baseball Rockies, football Broncos, hockey Avalance and baskeball Nuggets (including Alan Iverson).

With Republicans trying to gain a foothold in the Democratic stronghold of Minnesota, Democrats are crazy if they don't try to break out of their East Coast-Midwest-Southern mindset by making inroads in the West. After all, Colorado just elected a Democratic governor, and there are eight other Democratic governors from Kansas to Oregon, including a likely presidential candidate, New Mexico's Bill Richardson. And the new Speaker of the House is from California and the new Senate majority leader is from Nevada.

Sure, Democrats held their 1984 convention in San Francisco and their 2000 convention in Los Angeles, but look where it got them -- Fritz Mondale, who lost every state but his own, and Al Gore, who couldn't even carry his own home state. In fact, Democrats haven't won with a candidate who was nominated in a city west of the Mississippi since they picked John F. Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1960.

As the brothers Salazar of Colorado, Sen. Ken and Rep. John, argue, energy sources are key to many of America's most pressing problems, including freeing us from the stranglehold of Middle Eastern oil imports. Colorado, with its vast oil shale deposits, and the West with its limitless coal deposits and other alternative energy sources, is a good place to position the party for the future.

So let's hear it for Denver. It may be a cow town, but if Democrats want to make the west a battleground in 2008, they better be ready to ride in the rodeo.