x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Republicans risk losing Colorado

Barack Obama is holding a near seven-point lead in Colorado, a state that has voted Republican all but once in the past 40 years.

Barack Obama speaks at a rally at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov 2 2008.
Barack Obama speaks at a rally at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov 2 2008.

DENVER // Autumn in Colorado puts on a stunning show of colours: the snow-capped Rocky Mountains are purple in the evening light, the leaves of aspens turn spectacular tints of red and yellow. This season, the Democrats are hoping to add another colour to the state's rich palette: blue. With the vote tomorrow, Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, is holding a nearly seven-point lead in Colorado, a state that has voted Republican all but once in the past four decades.

Today, the picture looks starkly different. The governor, Bill Ritter, is a Democrat and the party controls both houses of the state legislature. Not only is Obama ahead, but Mark Udall and Betsy Markey, Democratic candidates for the Senate and the House in Colorado, look set to triumph as well. "It definitely looks like Colorado is now a lean-Democratic state," said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster and political analyst.

How did such a firmly Republican stronghold swing so quickly from red to blue? One obvious answer, analysts said, has to do with the Republicans themselves. "The unpopularity of the Bush administration has done wonders to buoy the standing of Democrats across the country," said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. But analysts said there is more than just Bush fatigue behind the seismic shift occurring in Colorado. As well, Republican state legislators here faltered badly in recent years by swinging too far to the religious right. They lost the state's sizeable bloc of independent voters by obsessing over proposals to ban gay marriage and force public school students to recite the pledge of allegiance. During that time, Democratic strategists, including Gary Hart, a candidate for president in 1984, drafted proposals mapping out how the Democrats could seize on the west's individualist spirit to win voters away from the Republicans. The decision by the Democrats to woo the west was the central reason Denver was chosen to host this year's Democratic National Convention, party officials said. Western Democrats, including Mr Ritter, rule strictly from the centre, blending policies from both parties. "The prominence and political successes of new-style Democratic governors who are moderate, environmentalist, comfortable with a gun culture, and socially tolerant" has been another major factor in the Democrats' success, Mr Mann said. That centrism has allowed Democrats, including Mr Obama, to gobble up Colorado independents, who make up 31 per cent of the state's registered voters. In 2004, George W Bush won Colorado by five points, a lead Mr Obama looks to pass this time around. "By and large you can explain the movement out here by the movement of independents," Mr Ciruli said. "Now they are breaking 20 per cent to Obama - just huge numbers." Analysts also point to rapidly changing demographics across Colorado. They said Republicans have failed to accommodate the state's new character. Once rural and mostly white, Colorado now has a sizeable immigrant community as well as a huge influx of city dwellers from California. Eighty per cent of Coloradans now live in the urban Front Range, which stretches between Denver and Boulder. Other states in the west are witnessing similar transformations - both in demographics and political leanings. Nevada and New Mexico are also tilting Democratic, and even Arizona, John McCain's home state, has become a campaign battleground in the final days before the vote. Mr Bush won all these states in 2004. Bruce Merrill, a former Republican strategist, said the Democrat's new strategy has helped them successfully craft a message more of what the US public wants to hear this political season. "This has the potential to be a watershed election," Mr Merrill said. "One that will change the direction for the country for the next 30 to 40 years." One self-described Colorado independent was more specific about the reason she was voting Democratic. "It's the economy," Andrea Dennis said as she headed into an early polling station in Denver. "People are voting out of necessity." gpeters@thenational.ae