The likely prize for the campaign that succeeds in reaching these voters is the entire state and, in a razor-thin national contest, perhaps even the election.
“You show me who wins Arapahoe and Jefferson counties and I’ll show you not only who wins Colorado,” said Eric Sondermann, a nonpartisan political consultant in Denver, “I’ll show you who's sitting in the Oval Office next January.”
That thinking helps explain why President Obama will make a campaign appearance in Golden on Thursday morning, his ninth visit to Colorado this year. It explains why Republican Mitt Romney has touched down in the state six times in 2012 and why one of his sons, Josh Romney, addressed a “Young Americans for Romney” gathering in Arapahoe on Wednesday night. And it explains the clutter of television and direct-mail advertising filling the living rooms and mailboxes of coveted undecided voters here.
Population growth is the single biggest reason why the political dynamics of these suburbs have changed. Arapahoe County’s population has doubled since 1980 to nearly 600,000; Jefferson’s growth rate is not far behind. Together, they are home to nearly one-quarter of Colorado’s electorate, making the state among the most suburban in the country.
Who has moved in is just as important. Educated young professionals with Latino, Indian and Chinese surnames have become commonplace on the voter rolls. Mountainside mansions coexist with more modest neighborhoods. Yoga studios and REI stores (there are five in the Denver area alone) sit alongside Home Depots and Wal-Marts and, in Golden, the sprawling headquarters of Coors Brewing.
The newcomers have brought new politics with them. Suburbs once known for their Main Street Republicans are equally populated now by a broader mix of less partisan, more pragmatic voters who prefer to think of themselves as independent. They vote on the issues they see affecting them, such as school quality and the fate of the economy. Even the pro-business Republicans in many cases lean independent, according to public polling, because of what they see as the increasingly conservative and ideological message of the Republican Party.
“When I first came here I felt very much like I was an alien,” said Ginny Lee, 50, an information technology worker and registered Democrat who moved to Golden in the 1990s from California, and whose grandparents are from China. “Part of feeling more comfortable is that I’ve changed, but part of that is the community changing too.”