Colorado poses new challenges for Obama

August 8, 2012

President Obama should have a lot going for him in Colorado. The state is young (median age 35.5), nearly 20 percent Hispanic and is packed with Democratic newcomers who have transformed a historically Republican stronghold into a bona fide battleground. Those were among the factors that helped him win by a nine-point margin, 54 to 45 percent, in 2008.

But the Colorado where the president will campaign over the next two days poses new challenges. A Quinnipiac University/CBS/New York Times poll of three swing states released Wednesday shows Obama trailing former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, 50 to 45 percent, among likely voters. His advantage over Romney with women (51 to 43 percent) is significantly smaller than in Virginia (54 to 40 percent) or Wisconsin (59 to 36 percent), the other two states covered in the poll. His deficit in Colorado among men (Romney has a 56 to 39 percent edge) is larger.

There also appears to be a softness to Obama’s support in Colorado: 11 percent said they might change their minds before Election Day, compared to 6 percent for Romney.

On the economy, the news for Obama is just as troubling. Romney enjoys a 10-point edge (51 to 41 percent) on the question of who would do a better job with the economy. In Virginia and Wisconsin, the two candidates are running essentially even on the issue, the poll found.

Colorado is perhaps especially daunting this year because of an electorate rocked by back-to-back traumas: the Aurora mass shooting and a series of ruinous wildfires.

So it’s not surprising that Obama will spend the next two days on the ground in Denver, Grand Junction, Pueblo and Colorado Springs, emphasizing economic and women’s issues. This afternoon, he is scheduled to be introduced by Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law School graduate blocked by House Republicans from testifying in favor of insurance coverage for contraception and then trashed by talk-show host Rush Limbaugh as a prostitute. Obama is also expected to continue hammering Romney’s plan to cut taxes on the wealthy. (Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), widely viewed as a possible vice presidential pick, will also be in the state Wednesday, campaigning for Romney.)

Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, said Obama appears to be taking a page from the 2010 Senate campaign of Michael Bennet, who narrowly defeated tea party-backed Republican Ken Buck. In his primary campaign, Buck alienated women with a series of statements, including urging voters to choose him over opponent Jane Norton because he “doesn’t wear high heels.”

“He’s somewhat following the Bennet playbook,” said Masket. “Obama is trying to use that strategy and is hoping for a similar result.”

Masket and other analysts say Obama’s success will depend on the ability of his ground-level organization in the state to drive turnout, as it did successfully in 2008. He estimates that the Obama operation has about 30 field offices spread across the state, including some in conservative areas the campaign is not likely to carry (Colorado Springs, Grand Junction), but where there are still sizable numbers of Democrats to be targeted. But Romney is also ramping up, hoping to duplicate Obama’s 2008 success.

The ground game will be ever more important this year. Coloradans, who have been marinating in television ads from both sides, say they have tuned the spots out. According to the Quinnipiac poll, 67 percent of likely voters say the ads are “not important” to their decision making.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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