Colorado is Mitt Romney’s safety valve. If he falters in the East—losing, say, Ohio—Colorado is the key to offsetting that defeat and still winning Romney 270 electoral votes. In fact, as the presidential race now stands, Romney probably won’t be sitting in the White House next January unless he does win Colorado.
Romney ought to capture Colorado. There are 97,954 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the state. In 2010, Republicans won two House seats, gained control of the state house of representatives, and ousted two statewide Democratic officials for the first time since 1974. If Republicans hadn’t botched the elections for governor and senator, Colorado would be seen today as rich GOP soil.
Romney polls well here, relatively speaking. The Denver Post is outlandishly pro-Obama, but its poll in mid-September gave the president only a one-point lead, 47-46 percent. Republicans were thrilled, especially with the gender gap shrinking to 6 percentage points. Rasmussen polled here last week and found Romney ahead, 47-45 percent. Other polls put Obama in the lead by up to 5 percentage points.
Best of all for Republicans, they seem to have overcome their death wish. They ruled Colorado in the 1990s and into the 2000s, then lost their way as Democrats put together a sophisticated election machine and seized control. An example of the reversal: Bush won Colorado in 2004 by almost 5 percentage points, Obama won by 9 in 2008. Meanwhile, Republicans specialized in bickering.
In 2010, Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck was headed to victory in the Senate race until he likened homosexuality to alcoholism during an appearance on Meet the Press. Democrats pounced on him as “extreme” and he lost by 30,000 votes. In the governor’s campaign, the Republican nominee, Scott McInness, was forced to drop out after it was discovered he had collected $300,000 for a plagiarized report. Democrat John Hickenlooper waltzed to victory.
As if hexed by the GOP’s misfortunes, Romney got off to a slow start here. He won the presidential caucuses in 2008 with 60 percent of the vote, but got only 35 percent this year and lost to Rick Santorum. After locking up the nomination this spring, he stayed away from Colorado for more than seven weeks—until scheduling two days of campaigning this week.
Richard Beeson, Romney’s national political director and a Colorado native, says the need for fundraising kept the candidate away. “We’ve got to keep up with this Obama money machine,” he told me. As excuses go, that’s a pretty lame one.
Obama has already devoted 10 days to campaigning in Colorado this year. He brought Sandra Fluke, the law student famous for demanding free contraceptives, with him to Denver in August. His air war of TV ads was unleashed in early spring. “He practically lives in Colorado,” says Floyd Ciruli, a widely respected Denver pollster. But Colorado turns out to be “the weakest link in his strategy” for winning battleground states, according to Ciruli.
One reason is that the strategy is a clone of Democratic senator Michael Bennet’s campaign against Buck. It’s heavy on abortion and social issues and attaches the word “extreme” to Romney. In Colorado, “that’s the magic word to call your opponent,” Ciruli says. “Obama does it all the time.”
His latest ad features a woman named Jenny, who says “it’s a scary time to be a woman,” what with Romney being “so out of touch.” An announcer adds, “Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraception. And Romney supports overturning Roe v. Wade. Romney backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even in case of rape and incest.”