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Counting on Colorado

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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008

DENVER, Oct. 25 -- From the barrage of television ads to boots on the ground to the demographic and political forces changing the West, Colorado is a case study in the balance of power between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain in the closing days of the 2008 presidential campaign.

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Colorado has been a red state in presidential races for four decades, save for 1992, when Bill Clinton carried it largely because independent candidate Ross Perot drained votes away from George H.W. Bush. Obama, who will campaign here Sunday, is determined to end the Republican winning streak with a victory that could go a long way toward putting him in the White House. McCain, who made three stops in the state on Friday, is just as determined to deny Obama that victory.

The conservative forces backing McCain here are energized, and he counts on a get-out-the-vote operation that historically has ranked as one of the Republican Party's top three or four in the nation. But McCain faces an opponent who, with a huge financial war chest, an army of volunteer activists and an aggressive game plan, has put together a campaign that Democratic officials in the state say is superior to anything they have ever seen on their side.

Obama has more than 50 offices in Colorado, McCain about a dozen. On Election Day, there may be as many as 100 sites around the state from which the voter turnout operation will be directed. Obama officials will not say how many paid staffers they have in the state, but one knowledgeable Democratic strategist said privately that the number approaches 400.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), who picked off a Republican-held district in the Democratic sweep two years ago and is eyeing an easy reelection campaign, said the Obama effort is impressive for its "scale and consistency and persistency," adding: "They're just touching everybody and anybody."

"I've never seen a ground game like Barack Obama's," Gov. Bill Ritter (D) said.

Republicans here give Obama credit for the size of the operation he has put together but argue that with the benefit of experience on their side, they are better equipped to compete in the battle to mobilize and turn out voters -- though they concede that McCain is running in one of the worst environments Republicans have seen in decades.

"To compare the two [campaigns], it's the best we've ever had in Colorado and it's as good as they've got," said Dick Wadhams, the state Republican Party chairman. "If this came down to a one- or two-point race, we could win that race. The question is whether that headwind is so strong."

The headwind Wadhams described reflects public dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, coupled with the massive resources advantage Obama enjoys here. That has given Obama the edge heading into the final week. When McCain arrived here Thursday night, one top adviser sat watching television out of the corner of his eye and quickly saw the imbalance. Within an hour, half a dozen Obama ads aired, but none for his candidate.

McCain recently scaled back his television buy in Colorado for the final days of the campaign, as he seeks to spread his more limited resources around at least half a dozen states where he is trailing and where he must win to have a chance of reaching 270 electoral votes. The Denver Post estimated that, over the final stretch of the campaign, Obama will outspend McCain by about 7 to 1 on television ads in the Denver area.

Overall, Obama has spent $8.5 million on ads in Colorado during the general election, compared with $7.9 million for McCain. In the past week, Obama spent $838,000 to McCain's $531,000, according to figures compiled by Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. Tracey said that while McCain outspent Obama before the Democratic National Convention, which was held in Denver in late August, Obama has spent more since then.

Obama also hopes to benefit from a changing electorate in Colorado and other states in the Mountain West -- one reason Democrats think they will pick up New Mexico and will have a chance of winning Nevada.


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