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Once Obama's to Lose, Colo. Is Now Up for Grabs

Once Obama's to Lose, Colo. Is Now Up for Grabs

By Erin McPike - August 9, 2012


When it became clear in April that Mitt Romney would become the Republican presidential nominee, his boosters -- including the political team at the Republican National Committee -- thought Colorado would be among the toughest swing states for him to win come the fall.

Washington-based GOP operatives gaming out the electoral map didn't go so far as to equate Colorado with New Mexico, but they believed President Obama would see it as a pretty safe bet to win again.

That’s no longer the case. According to Republican sources, Colorado Springs is the top market for ad spending this week when one combines expenditures by both campaigns, their supportive super PACs and the national parties.

Both sides say a new Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS News poll showing Romney with a five-point lead is something of an outlier, but they don’t dispute that the race is now close. And yet, both sides also say that Obama has the upper hand in Colorado heading into the fall. (The president leads in the RCP Average by 1.2 percentage points.)

Said Mike Stratton, who has led a number of Democratic statewide campaigns there: “President Obama will win Colorado, but he won’t win overwhelmingly like he did before.” Stratton noted that there has been more spending per capita in the Centennial State than elsewhere, and that in all of the 42 Electoral College pathways to victory the two campaigns have mapped out, Colorado is always in the win column.

The state has been trending blue in recent years, but that is due, in part, to a weak bench. Starting with Pete Coors’ ill-fated Senate run in 2004, Republicans have been fielding what many in the party call an uninspiring set of candidates, including Bob Schaffer for Senate in 2008, and Dan Maes for governor and Ken Buck for Senate in 2010. Those losses have amounted to a dismantling of the state’s GOP, which may make Romney’s prospects look even dimmer.

Ryan Frazier, a former Aurora City Council member who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010, attributed part of the problem in recent years to extremism, suggesting that Coloradans are independent-minded and that very right-wing Republicans don’t succeed in the state.

“What Romney can’t allow Obama to do is to let the president’s team paint him as an extremist,” Frazier said. “If Romney keeps Obama’s team from casting him in that light, I think he has a great shot to win Colorado.”

Frazier spent eight years representing the city that was severely traumatized last month by a gunman in a movie theater and believes that while the community wants to hear what the presidential candidates have to say, “we’re just beginning the healing process. . . . So too much politics I’m not sure would go over well.”

Obama traveled to Colorado late last month to meet with victims’ families and address the public, and he visited the state in late June to assess some of the damage caused by wildfires. He made sure to keep political stops out of both trips.

“I personally don’t think that either situation will have much to do with the outcome of the presidential election,” said Stratton, the Democratic strategist. There is some debate about that in both parties; some think the president is something of a father figure to Coloradans, while others say the massacre and wildfires have added anxiety to the mix for state voters and hurt the incumbent.

Nevertheless, Obama and Romney have made political visits to the state in the past two weeks. Romney was in Aspen to meet with high-dollar donors last week, and the president is on a two-day swing there to appeal to women. First lady Michelle Obama is coming this weekend.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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