Obama the candidate emerges on Colorado trip, with political ferocity

The fact President Obama is spending two full midsummer days here in Colorado, hopping from event to event as if the election were next week, tells you all you need to know about the state: It is one he wants badly to win.

There are other paths to the 270 electoral votes Obama needs to secure a second term. But the one that runs through Colorado and its nine coveted electoral votes is a bit smoother than the ones that run around it.

“If we win Colorado,” Obama told a crowd chanting “four more years” in Denver on Wednesday, “we’ll get those four more years.”

Over the past two days, Obama the candidate has emerged with a ferocity that many who watched him on the trail four years ago say recalls those days.

The cool presidential demeanor has been shed along with his suit coat out here on hot afternoons, and in its place has emerged an intensely competitive politician who seems to be beginning to take the possibility of defeat in November a bit personally.

The hallmarks of Candidate Obama are increasingly apparent.

There is his easy conversational engagement with his friendly audiences; the partisanship laced through his stump speeches that skewers, but without the same sting it seems to have when delivered in Washington; and the personal energy that many of his 2008 supporters worried had gotten lost somewhere along Pennsylvania Avenue since the last election.

To win here in a state very much up for grabs, Obama must maximize his appeal to Colorado’s growing Hispanic population, energize its liberals interested in such issues as alternative energy and women’s reproductive rights, and get first-time voters registered and to the polls on Election Day. It is no small task — hence, a pair of days in Colorado’s blistering heat to make his pitch, again and again.

His itinerary here — his ninth visit to the state since taking office — has told that story.

Obama opened with an event Wednesday on a college campus in Denver emphasizing women’s health — to an audience composed mostly of women — and the protections for it contained in his health-care law. On this trip, he has claimed “Obamacare,” a Republican epithet, as unabashedly his own to gleeful receptions from supporters.

Then he flew into red-tinted Grand Junction, where he delivered a tub-thumping message of economic populism to his Democratic audience, who had been warned by Obama volunteers in their introductions not to fear the “ostracism” that comes with working on the president’s behalf in a region that voted against him last time.

“If you believe that we’re on the right track,” Obama told the audience to applause, “if you think, like I do, that we’ve come too far to turn back now, then I’m going to need you, Colorado.”

On Thursday, Obama emphasized in a pair of events alternative energy tax credits, important here in wind-farm rich Colorado, where an estimated 5,000 jobs depend on the growing industry. The state has set a goal requiring that 30 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.

Obama believes that alternative-energy promotion policy, criticized by Republicans as a waste of taxpayers’ money, is helping develop an industry in which many of the country’s future jobs will emerge.

His administration has also made missteps, most notably in the case of the California solar-panel manufacturing firm Solyndra, which declared bankruptcy after receiving a $527 million federal loan.

Here in Pueblo, in a hall on the state fairgrounds, where live mariachi bands warmed up the crowd of 3,500, chants of “Si se puede” rang out as they did four years ago, when Obama, then a long shot, got bilingual reassurance that victory was possible.

After taking the stage to the sounds of U2, Obama told the audience that his Republican rival Mitt Romney has pledged to end the alternative-energy tax credit, potentially costing the state thousands of jobs.

He tied it to his larger economic message — one that on the stump he has boiled down to a “middle out, bottom up” approach to growth that he favors vs. a “top down” policy that he says Romney is promoting.

“Colorado, it’s time to stop spending billions of dollars each year on subsidies for an oil industry that is already doing pretty well,” Obama said to cheers, saying the money should instead be invested in developing alternative energy sources.

And he championed the DREAM Act, legislation that would give immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as minors a way to achieve residency. The audience, many Latinos among them, screamed its approval.

“I’ve been out spent before, I’ve been counted out before,” Obama told the audience. “But what we learned in 2008 is that when American people want change they make it happen.”

In a statement of response, Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, said Obama’s “policies have devastated the middle class, resulting in higher unemployment, lower incomes, and greater uncertainty about the future.”

“Only one candidate in this race is going to raise taxes – and that’s Barack Obama,” Williams said.

Sharp and sometimes even teetering on the edge of anger, Obama nonetheless is delivering a message in Colorado and elsewhere on the stump that is, at its heart, optimistic. His speech is set up as part explanation, part rationale for why he is running again and why he believes he deserves to win.

As he did here, Obama tells crowds that, despite Republican claims that he has overseen an American decline, “there isn’t a country in the world that wouldn’t trade places with the United States.” It is a happy nationalism that his audiences these past two days have cheered.

“We have less than three months left until this election. Time is flying,” Obama told the crowd, warning of the millions of dollars in negative ads to come over that time.

“That may be a strategy to win the election,” he continued, “but it can’t hide the fact that they don’t have a plan.”

After Pueblo, Obama headed to Colorado Springs, another of the state’s red zones, where he spoke among a stand of tall pines to more than 4,000 people gathered on a campus green at Colorado College. His themes were the same, as was his tone, and he turned again to his latest laugh-line description of Romney’s economic plan as “trickle down, tax cut fairy dust.”

Next week Candidate Obama will be back in Iowa, another swing state that helped launch him to the presidency four long years ago and where, again, he will be asking for help to keep his job.

Scott Wilson is the chief White House correspondent for the Washington Post. Previously, he was the paper’s deputy Assistant Managing Editor/Foreign News after serving as a correspondent in Latin America and in the Middle East.
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