With the presidential debate to start, it's worth commenting on the setting of the debate—Denver University—and its significance for the presidential election. It's a perfect Indian Summer day here in the Centennial State and they canceled classes due to the hubbub, so students have been taking advantage of the day off—tossing footballs around , bringing out the Slip N' Slide, and generally partying. (And I do mean partying. Walking around campus I heard two DU students wondering in a cautionary fashion if police horses could sniff for drugs.)
Also, noteworthy is that the area around DU is one of the few areas in Denver where you can see plenty of Obama signs. In 2008, the city and surrounding area was covered in Obama signs. To some extent that was a function of the excitement over hosting the Democratic convention, but it was also true that the state ended up voting for Obama by eight points. I've spent over two weeks in the last two months in Colorado, and this election season looks markedly different. Now if you visit the Denver and the surrounding suburbs—Arapahoe county, Lakewood, Littleton and so on—there's nary an Obama sign to be found. Romney signs and bumperstickers aren't omnipresent, but the president's campaign isn't nearly as visible as his challenger's.
Despite this, the Real Clear Politics average shows Obama up just over three points in the state. However, there are reasons to think that Obama's lead here is far from safe. "There are 97,954 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the state," observed Fred Barnes in a recent piece on Colorado's role in the election.
The other big reason Obama should be worried is this—voters under 30 comprised an astounding 18 percent of the Colorado electorate in 2008. Given that the youth vote skews strongly for Obama, any drop off in turnout will pretty directly eat into his share of the state's vote. The Obama campaign has focused heavily on college turnout during his visits to the state, which is challenging because the youth vote, particularly in a state such as Colorado, is transient. Many of the same college voters that voted for Obama in 2008 have graduated and moved on. In one recent visit to the state, Obama tried to play on the University of Colorado and Colorado State University rivalry to spark an increase in college voter registrations.
For their part, some DU students seem, uh, perhaps overly enthused by the debate being held on campus tonight. Still, the Obama campaign must know the margin of victory in Colorado is almost certainly going to be much smaller than it was in 2008. One of the big unanswered questions for the Obama campaign is whether the youth vote will turn out in big enough numbers to help Obama win the state again.