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Obama, Romney battle for Colorado: Life in a swing state

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DENVER -- As a crowd waits for President Barack Obama to headline a rally -- at a park where the silouhettes of Rocky Mountain peaks are in the distance -- the music blaring is Journey's hit "Don't Stop Believin.' "

The 2012 Obama re-election is not the quasi-movement drive of 2008, so the tune is apt. An organizer on stage is quoting the song's title in urging people to register to vote by the Tuesday deadline.

It's Thursday, the day after the first presidential debate here, and Obama and Mitt Romney are hanging around to stump for part of the day -- each working to turn out their base vote in Colorado, a critical battleground state.

Obama is headlining the rally in a Democratic vote-rich part of the city.

Romney is making a surprise visit to the Colorado Conservative Political Action Conference.

Colorado and nine or 10 other swing states could determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. The battleground states account for about 100 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Colorado has nine.

All the Obama and Romney resources are being devoted almost exclusively to battleground states: television ads, get-out-the-vote drives, direct mail appeals and visits by the candidates or their top surrogates. The SuperPACs supporting Obama and Romney play exclusively in the battleground states.

Obama invested a lot in Colorado in 2008; the Democratic National Convention was here and his campaign used it as a giant organizing tool. Obama won Colorado in 2008, beating GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by almost nine points. Pre-debate polls had Obama ahead by a few points.

Romney's strong debate performance had an impact. The first post-debate poll, by Gravis Marketing, puts Romney ahead at 49.36 percent to Obama's 45.87 percent. The survey of 1,285 likely voters was taken Oct. 3-4 with a 2.8 percent margin of error.

Colorado has a growing Hispanic population and an influx of highly educated, environmentally aware residents.

I asked Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a geologist by training and a former restaurant owner, why Colorado is such a battleground.

"So many people have moved here from other places," he said. "So we have this dynamic here, equally one-third Democrats, one-third Republicans and one third Independents," Hickenlooper, a Democrat, told me. "So it means there's a lot of people out there willing to listen and to be moved one way or the other."

Those independents "don't want to define themselves with one party or another," the governor said.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) told me Democrats have been able to make inroads in Republican turf in the Rocky Mountain West because "We are Libertarians, we are fiscally conservative and we are environmentally conscious."

Dick Wadhams, a Republican political consultant and a former chair of the Colorado Republican Party, told me a constant influx of new voters "makes our politics constantly competitive, because there is always this churning of new people coming in from out of state."

Two swing counties near Denver -- Jefferson and Arapahoe -- could determine the outcome in Colorado, Wadhams said. They are full of "unaffiliated voters and in many cases Republican women [who] are always up for grabs, so that makes it very competitive."

Each campaign is running a massive Colorado ground game, door-knocking and phone-calling. Romney, with 14 offices across the state, has a stronger operation here than did McCain in 2008; Obama has 59 offices.

In states that are solidly for Romney or Obama -- as is the case in Illinois -- there are no television ads running, so red or blue state voters miss the most rugged combat in the presidential campaign.

Television spots to benefit Romney and Obama -- by the campaigns and the SuperPACs supporting them -- are an overwhelming presence on Denver television.

During one 10-minute period on Wednesday morning in Denver I saw five spots:

† A Romney campaign ad portraying Romney as a "common sense" conservative and Obama as a super liberal.

† A spot by the pro-Romney American Crossroads SuperPAC slamming Obama on the high jobless rate.

† An Obama campaign spot where the entire narrative is Romney's voice from that 47 percent tape -- run over pictures of middle-class-looking people who seemed down and out.

Obama was second-guessed for not hitting Romney over the 47 percent comments at the debate. Obama's paid advertising was doing the talking for him.

† An Obama ad aiming to negate a Romney spot where he said both rivals care about the poor. A narrator says if Romney "really cares, wouldn't we see it in his priorities?"

† Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama SuperPAC -- the one Mayor Rahm Emanuel is fund-raising for -- has a spot targeting Independents featuring a female small-business owner who voted for Romney when he ran for Massachusetts governor.

"I feel like I was duped by Mitt Romney," she explains. "I'm voting for President Obama." The spot is intended to help level the playing field as the Romney team woos disappointed Obama 2008 voters.

About 5 percent of Colorado voters are still undecided.

Whitney Nielson, 26, a hairstylist from Denver who voted for Obama in 2008, told me the three remaining presidential and vice presidential debates will help her make up her mind. On Wednesday, "Romney just handled himself better; I still like what Obama stands for and I've always been a Democrat."

Brendon Allen, 34, a commercial real estate consultant from Denver who supported McCain in 2008, told me he wasn't sure who will get his vote.

Said Allen, "It's going to be a game-time decision for me."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on October 8, 2012 5:25 PM.

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