Colorado is finally taking a shine to Democrats. But is it blue enough to accept Obama?

Colorado is finally taking a shine to Democrats. But is it blue enough to accept Obama?

Colorado is finally taking a shine to Democrats. But is it blue enough to accept Obama?

A guide to the swing states.
Sept. 23 2008 4:22 PM

The Colorado Purple

The state is finally taking a shine to Democrats. But is it blue enough to accept Obama?

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More likely, the reasons are deeper. In Colorado, fiscal conservatism is not exclusively Republican. Guns and religion are important issues, not simply things for people to cling to. Bipartisanship is practically a fetish. "If there's a gang, [Salazar] joins it," says independent pollster Floyd Ciruli. Thus Udall is more of a barometer for Obama's success—if he's doing well, then Obama should do well—than a model for it.

Politics aside, Obama is also trying not to repeat John Kerry's tactical mistakes of four years ago. Unlike Kerry, who at this point in 2004 was yanking ads from the state, Obama's campaign has opened 26 offices. "We've never had as much staff in the field as we have right now," says state Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak. Last week, Obama visited Grand Junction and Pueblo—not exactly the belly of the beast, but somewhere toward the back of its throat.


None of which worries Dick Wadhams. The chairman of the Colorado Republican Party has two jobs this election: First, to make sure his state does not swing Democratic for the first time since 1992. And second, to get Schaffer elected to the Senate over Udall. (They are running for the seat left open by Republican Wayne Allard, who is retiring.) Wadhams' strategy is almost a mirror opposite of the Obama campaign's: lump Obama and Udall together at every opportunity. They're both typical tax-and-spend liberal weenies ("mile-high, inch-deep"). The name Udall doesn't escape Wadhams' lips without the prefix Boulder liberal. After a while, they start to sound like Udall's first and middle names.

Of course, Wadhams can get exercised about Obama, too. The candidate's acceptance speech, he says, was a "self-worship rally" that displayed the "elitism" of the Democratic Party. Republicans also dismiss the Democrats' field organization, which Wadhams called the "One Field Office for Every Voter Plan." "Theirs is more of a shotgun approach," says state GOP spokesman Tom Kise. "Ours is more of a laser, very strategic."

These attempts to peg Udall and Obama as fey liberals may be the Republicans' only hope. In everyone's favorite phrasing, the "fundamentals are strong" for Democrats. The state has seen an influx of new voters in the counties surrounding Denver. Meanwhile, Democrats are catching up in the registration game. During most of the '90s, there were about 150,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. Their advantage has shrunk to about 60,000. Turnout has been rising. Larimer County, north of Denver, saw 93 percent Democratic turnout in 2006. For a midterm election, that's unheard of.

Even in deeply conservative El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs, Democrats are optimistic. They can't win the county, says Democratic state Sen. John Morse. But "if we can get 40 percent," he says, "then we win."

It's a modest goal—but then, El Paso County has voted for the GOP presidential candidate for decades, and in 2004 Kerry won only 32 percent of the vote. And, truth be told, such modesty is in keeping with the Colorado Democrats' general demeanor. Obama may want to change the world, but Colorado Democrats will be happy with changing the minds of 8 percent of voters in El Paso County.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.