Loyalties shift in vote-rich suburbs

The neighborhood of Reunion, outside of Denver, was meant to be part of a 50-50 congressional swing district. Many independents there who voted for Obama now are voicing disapproval and frustration.
By Philip Rucker
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 2:40 AM

IN COMMERCE CITY, COLO. Everything about Reunion is meant to be perfect. The houses in this middle-class, master-planned neighborhood 20 miles outside Denver evoke the front-porch intimacy of a small town. Large faux farm silos adorn the grand landscaped entrance. The fishing pond shimmers. The small sign on Reunion Parkway boasts, "Happily ever after starts here."

Politically, Reunion was meant also to be part of the perfect congressional district, one drawn up after the 2000 Census to be an absolutely 50-50 suburban swing district. There would be no better place in America to judge the mood of the electorate.

Today, the mood in many of the houses along Reunion's curving sidewalks is one of disappointment.

"I've never been more disenchanted," said Donna Mastrangelo, 48, who moved here from Arizona in 2005. She supported Barack Obama in 2008 but now thinks the president overreached. Sitting on a park bench on a balmy afternoon, she turned to her husband, Louis, and said: "We can be swayed any which way at this point. . . . I don't want anyone to assume my vote anymore. I want them to work for it."

In 2008, 59 percent of the voters in Colorado's 7th District were swayed by Obama's promise of a government that works for the middle class. That year they reelected their Democratic congressman, Ed Perlmutter, for a second term. The swing district had swung - from Republican in its early years, to Democratic.

After four years of Democratic control in Washington, however, many independents here who voted for Obama now voice varying degrees of disapproval for the president and his party. They say they are frustrated by his inability to forge bipartisan compromise. They say Obama and the Democrats pursued an agenda that was too liberal and have not done enough to shore up the economy.

Sentiments like this can be overheard all around Reunion, and in outer-ring suburban neighborhoods across the country. Democrats rose to power in Washington in part with a concerted effort to expand their base of support to include the moderate, college-educated and increasingly diverse voters who now populate the farther-out bedroom communities around Denver, Las Vegas, Washington and other metropolitan areas that rose up over the past decade.

This is not tea party country. The two dozen independent voters here who spoke to The Washington Post this month were more practical than ideological in their political views. They said they support politicians based on the everyday concerns that affect their lives: schools, jobs, traffic, the economy.

These suburbanites often decide elections, and Democrats are trying hard to keep hold of them.

"The battle of every election comes down to how far out into the suburbs can you push the line of Democratic dominance," said Ruy Teixeira, a fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress and co-author of a 2002 book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority." "The Democrats have had a lot of success pushing that line out from the urban core. But I think Republicans will reassert their dominance in the farther-flung exurbs. Where is that line going to be drawn? That's going to determine how well the Republicans do."

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, independent voters in the country's suburban areas said they support Republican congressional candidates over Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin (62 to 30 percent).

"There is no question we are struggling with them today," said Democratic pollster Andrew Myers, who is tracking suburban voters in Colorado and other states. "If ultimately we lose them, it will be like one of the legs of our stool was knocked out."

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