In 2008, Colorado was a place of pride for the Obama campaign and a showcase for the candidate’s ability to accomplish what few Democratic presidential contenders had been able to pull off: to turn the Centennial State blue. This time around however, Colorado remains a narrow climb for the president’s re-election efforts. The state’s nine electoral votes up for grabs will be hard fought, with results likely to prolong the drama throughout the night.
Voting: GOP takes early voting edge
Polls close at 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday, but an estimated 80% of Colorado voters already cast their ballots prior to Election Day. Early voting in Colorado began just hours before the final presidential debate covering foreign policy on Oct. 22, and spanned to Nov. 2, allowing voters to cast their ballots either in person at polling locations, or by mail. According to the Associated Press, over 1.7 million people took advantage of early voting this year. No ballots were counted prior to Election Day, but the party affiliations of those who participated before Nov. 6 show the state is an exception to the trend of Democrats dominating early voting. Republicans held a slim edge with 37% of the share of the early ballots, compared to 35% from Democrats.
The polls: Romney picks up speed, closes gap
Mitt Romney made up ground in recent polls, recovering from a 5-point deficit to tie the president. After the Democratic National Convention, Obama had led Romney 50% to 45%. But, following the final debate matchup between the two candidates— and the president’s poor performance at the University of Denver debate in early October— the spread shrank, with each candidate holding steady at 48%.
In 2008, Colorado went blue for the first time since Bill Clinton was first elected, making Obama the third Democratic candidate to win over the state since Harry Truman. Obama held a commanding victory over Sen. John McCain (54% to 45%), helping some Democrats in local races ride his coattails along the way. That year, Democrat Mark Udall took over the state’s U.S. Senate seat left by retiring Republican senator, Wayne Allard.
Voters: Obama support largely hinges on women, Latino voters
Women were heavily influential in Obama winning Colorado in 2008. He claimed 56% of the female vote compared to McCain’s 41%. Obama’s success was an 18 point increase from Sen. John Kerry’s showing among Colorado women in 2004. The gender gap remains key in Obama’s success in Colorado this election cycle. In September, the president was up by 14 percent with women, 54% to Romney’s 40%. However, Romney’s overall gains in polling in the state were reflected in his ability to close that gap— he has now reduced Obama’s September lead by half, polling at 45% to the president’s 52% among the state’s women.
Colorado’s growing Latino population also provided a boost for Obama in 2008. He won more than 61% of Latino support to McCain’s 38%. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Colorado’s population of eligible Latino voters is the ninth largest in the nation. Those voters make up some 14% of those eligible to cast a ballot in Colorado, the center says. Obama currently leads among Latinos 63% to Romney’s 34%.
Ground game: Gin up the base
The densely populated regions of Boulder and Denver Counties are strongholds for Democrats and accounted for a sizable share of the Obama-vote in 2008. Obama’s support wanes however in the suburban areas where current polls are showing a shift toward Romney. Over a month ago, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll had Obama leading 18 points among Denver suburban women. But as of late October, his advantage was scaled back to just 3%. Denver suburbs, like Jefferson County, could decide which way Colorado swings in this election cycle. It is regarded as the “swingiest of Colorado’s swing counties” by local newspapers, where registered voters are split among both parties and Independents.
Changing demographics in suburban Arapahoe County could prove vital for the Obama campaign, making it a bellwether county in the state. Meanwhile, even though Romney’s strength lies in the rural regions of the state, his ground game is concentrated elsewhere. As msnbc.com columnist Ben Adler of The Nation notes, “Despite his greater popularity in the rural areas, even Romney has to go where the votes are: his fourteen Colorado field offices are bunched like discs along I-25’s spine.”
The New York Times’ Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight forecast has an 80% chance of an Obama win in Colorado.