BAYHAM: Purple Mountain Politics – The Fight for Colorado

If voters in the Buckeye State are agitated from all of the special attention they’ve been receiving from the presidential candidates, major parties and 527s, they might take some solace knowing that folks in Colorado feel their pain.

The Rocky Mountain State has been one of most intensely fought over swing states outside of Ohio.

And with Virginia, North Carolina and Florida seemingly drifting towards the Republican column, Colorado’s importance rises as a both a firewall for President Barack Obama’s re-election bid and as a potential detour around Ohio to reach 270 electoral votes.

George W. Bush won Colorado in the razor-close 2000 election, which inspired a wealthy Californian to cook up a scheme where in the future Colorado would allocate its electoral votes on a proportional basis. Had such a system been in place in 2000, then-Vice-President Al Gore would have received enough electoral votes from his competitive second place finish in Colorado to claim the presidency.

The idea was based on the hope that the 2004 election would be as close as four years before and thus hand the White House over to the fill-in-the-Democrat nominee. Fortunately the move got exposed for what it was and Bush won by an even bigger margin nationally, which would have made the electoral vote redistribution academic.

In another, yet more legitimate, play for Colorado’s electoral votes, the Democrats chose Denver as the site of its 2008 convention, where then-US Senator Obama, standing before faux Greek columns in an open air football stadium, delivered his acceptance speech as his party’s nominee for president to his teary eyed faithful.

After the Democratic Convention left town, Obama’s campaign unleashed a torrent of television advertisements linking his 2008 opponent to President George W. Bush, going so far as including in the commercial an image of John McCain, who is partially disabled due to the torture he endured as a POW during the Vietnam War, awkwardly hugging the unpopular incumbent.

Perhaps the Obama camp was also looking as much to exploit McCain’s age and infirmity with that particular picture.

Because McCain refused to budge from his commitment to cap his general election campaign expenditures by accepting matching funds, Obama, who had made the same pledge but later crawfished, was able to dominate the Colorado airwaves.

There was also plenty of Obama art to be seen around town.

Street artist Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope” posters were plastered over boarded up storefronts and an impressive mural painted on the rear of the building that housed the popular Rocky Mountain Diner showed a contemplative Obama before a mountain range. The latter would have been the envy of any socialist country that promotes a cult of personality around their leaders.

The huge investment by the Democrats in Colorado paid dividends as Obama handily carried the state.

But things are different in Colorado this time around.

While the Obama campaign is once again heavily investing campaign funds there, a fiscally unfettered Romney campaign is spending big money to win Colorado. In 2008, McCain’s ads were drowned out by Obama’s media buy. One evening in particular I had seen five Obama commercials before viewing my first McCain advertisement. Things have evened out between the candidates in 2012.

In addition to money, Romney is spending a good deal of time in the state.

The Republican presidential nominee recently held one of the biggest events of the campaign at the Red Rocks amphitheater just outside Denver that featured Kid Rock and attracted thousands of people. It was just announced that Romney is returning to Colorado this weekend.

In between visits to Colorado, Romney’s sons have been meeting with volunteers at call centers that are focused on winning the early vote in 2012.

Four years prior McCain had been buried so badly in early voting that he had essentially lost the state before Election Day.

Colorado will likely be one of the closest states on November 6th. The most recent poll gives Romney a one point edge over the president though both candidates have traded slight leads over the past few weeks.

In addition to the “air war”, the Obama and Romney campaigns have assembled aggressive grassroots operations with supporters from the two camps waving posters at busy intersections and canvassing neighborhoods and rallying on street corners. While there are as many Obama yardsigns in 2012 as there were in 2008, this time the Republican candidate has a comparable presence on front lawns.

One remarkable thing about the Romney campaign in Colorado is that it’s mimicking Obama’s first presidential run by attracting participation from people who had not previously been involved in politics.

At a rally outside the Denver GOP’s headquarters, Craig Romney asked those in attendance to raise their hands if this was their first time volunteering on a campaign. Half of those present did.

There’s no less than a 75% chance that whoever carries Ohio will be the one dancing with his wife at the January inaugural balls. However, if New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Iowa go to the other candidate, then a winner won’t be projected until the most politically important state in the Mountain Time Zone checks in.

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