Looking at the electoral map this cycle, the focus has mostly been on Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. But what about the Mountain West? The assumption is that Obama has a virtual lock on Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, but is this valid?

An interesting item in the Hill suggests Colorado is being overlooked:

“We’re not looking at a guy who’s at 52 percent approval ratings,” said Floyd Ciruli, one of the state’s top independent pollsters, who in April found Obama’s approval ratings hovering at 45 percent among likely voters. “Even though the economy and unemployment is a little better than the national average, the level of anxiety is just about as high here as any place else. There’s general anxiety that [the economy] could turn south again.” …

“It’s as absolutely split as a state can be, which is why you can’t turn around without bumping into the president and his motorcade,” said Kenneth Bickers, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Either candidate can win and either candidate can lose.”

There are two points worth noting about Colorado.

First, and contrary to conventional wisdom, Latinos did not swing the state from red to blue in 2008. According to exit polls, John McCain managed 38 percent of the Latino vote. In 2004, George W. Bush pulled in 30 percent. The real action was with white voters, who gave McCain just 48 percent of the vote compared to 57 percent for Bush. So, Colorado is really not an example of demography trumping all, as so many on the left implicitly argue. Instead, it was about white voters abandoning the GOP.

Second, the Republicans rebounded in Colorado in 2010 to some degree. The party suffered an epic meltdown in the Senate and gubernatorial races, which prompted some pundits to conclude that the Centennial State was slipping away from the Republicans. However, the GOP actually won a solid victory in the statewide House vote, 50 percent to 45 percent, which basically tracked the national average. Plus, the two sides are evenly divided in the state house (the Democrats control the state senate).

No doubt that Colorado is no longer the solid red state that it once was, and that the change has been rapid (Bill Clinton lost it to Bob Dole as recently as 1996). But it is now a purple state that should be hotly contested this fall. Mitt Romney has a real chance there.

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