A crowd estimated at 12,000 people jammed into the outdoor concert venue. Romney patted his heart in response to the thunderous and sustained applause that greeted him when he was introduced on stage by running mate Paul Ryan. Spectators enthusiastically smacked together their red and white thunder sticks with the drop of every zinger or one-liner. For Romney, it was everything he might have hoped for.
The Republican presidential candidate had spent much of the day in the air. A five-hour flight took him from Florida, the scene of his final debate with President Obama, to Las Vegas, where he addressed another enthusiastic, though smaller, crowd at another, though less spectacular, outdoor amphitheater. He declared his campaign supercharged by the debates, and the crowd responded with an enormous roar.
Then it was back into his motorcade for the quick drive across the dry, desert Nevada landscape to his campaign charter plane and the flight into Denver for his last stop of the day, to the most competitive of the Western battlegrounds and one that Romney’s campaign may need if he hopes to defeat the president in less than two weeks.
Four years ago, the Rocky Mountain West was the newly discovered hot spot in presidential politics, a region often ceded to Republicans in presidential campaigns but suddenly on everyone’s radar as a place the Democrats might make a breakthrough that could scramble long-held assumptions about the electoral map.
Bill Clinton had won a few of these states when he was running for president, but his success was attributed more to the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot than some seismic shift in the electoral fortunes of national Democrats. Then the rising Hispanic population in states such as Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona began to change the political landscape.
Democrats took note four years ago and poured money and effort into the region. They set their convention in Denver, and Obama gave his acceptance speech before more than 80,000 people at the stadium where the Denver Broncos play football. His campaign organized effectively, registering voters enough to significantly shift the partisan balance in some states. He won Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico on his way to victory.
The West has been overshadowed in campaign 2012. This fall, everything is focused on the Midwest — Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin — as well as Florida and Virginia. But the region is important both for what it may do to the outcome of the presidential race and what it says about how changing demographics are changing America’s politics.