Ground games rev up in Colorado presidential race
FORT COLLINS, Colrado – Twenty houses in four hours. That’s what Barack Obama Colorado volunteer Maria Logsdon hits every weekend, knocking on doors in the suburbs north of Denver.In a battleground state polls show could go either way, both Obama and John McCain supporters are kicking into overdrive their ground efforts.”People are really excited, but they need that personal visit to get their support,” said Logsdon, 44, an occupational therapist and Obama volunteer who visits Hispanic households each weekend because she speaks Spanish.Logsdon has worked every weekend since the summer, and this day she’s signing up voters at an Obama “fiesta” in Fort Collins, a college town with agriculture roots that is becoming an exurb of Denver. Canvassing the crowd talking to voters, Logsdon is part of the most intense presidential campaigning Colorado has seen in living memory.Commercial breaks on TV have been jammed with political ads since August. The candidates have visited the Centennial State nearly two dozen times this year. Democrats chose Denver for their national convention. Both camps say Colorado’s nine electoral votes may be the hardest-fought anywhere in the nation.In one recent week, Colorado got visits from McCain, running mate Gov. Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama and a panel of celebrities including “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria stumping for Obama.Obama, copying a small-town strategy he used to great effect in Colorado during the Democratic caucuses, has opened 40 offices sprinkled across the state. McCain has 10.Both candidates are courting voters in areas where their party predecessors haven’t done well. Obama’s offices include outposts in GOP strongholds such as Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.And McCain recently became the first Republican presidential nominee since 1912 to campaign in Pueblo, a blue-collar town south of Denver long considered unwinnable by Republicans.The outreach beyond their party bases makes sense. As in other states, independents now make up the largest chunk of Colorado voters. By September, there were 787 more unaffiliated voters than Republicans, with Democrats less than 50,000 voters behind the GOP. For the same period in 2004, the leading affiliation was Republican, with independent and Democrats trailing further behind.So McCain and Obama are courting independents and Latinos, whose population growth is credited for fueling a rise in Democratic wins here.Since 2005, voter registration among Colorado Latinos has grown at a pace triple that of Anglo voters. Latinos made up 8.4 percent of registered Colorado voters in 2004; three years later they made up 9.5 percent. It’s not yet clear how many voters this year will be Hispanic, but trends indicate they may top 10 percent of all registered voters.The population change is helping Democrats. Democrats have taken control of the state Legislature and the governor’s office since helping re-elect President Bush with 52 percent of the vote in 2004.”This time we’re 100 percent a swing state,” said Kise, who oversees communications efforts for seven states from his Denver-area office. “There’s a high amount of interest, a high amount of energy.”Spanish-speaking voters have noticed the new attention.”There’s such a difference this year, isn’t there?” noted Maria Larsen of Berthoud, who sang in the Tejano band at the Obama rally.”There’s so many of us in the state of Colorado now,” said Larsen, whose home is in foreclosure. “There’s such a difference in the mood. We’re getting out there. We don’t want any more Republicans.”The McCain camp was at the Chile & Frijoles Festival in Pueblo, and McCain supporters say they’re working phone banks, churches and door-to-door visits to build Hispanic support.”It’s neighbor-to-neighbor personal contacts that are going to win this thing,” McCain spokesman Tom Kise said. He didn’t have any predictions for McCain’s support among Hispanic voters next month, but he said, “We’re making some inroads there.”And in a reversal of caucus strategy, in which McCain was soundly defeated here by Mitt Romney, the McCain camp is sending e-mails to McCain supporters pleading with them to hit undecided neighbors.But according to a University of Colorado political scientist, neither camp’s ground games are so good they have the race sewn up. Kenneth Bickers said that Democrats may be focusing too heavily on recruiting college students, who turned out in record numbers in February, for get-out-the-vote efforts.”Truthfully that tends not to be very effective,” Bickers said. “They’re all chirpy and happy and are telling you what to do. But they don’t know how much you’re paying in taxes, how much you’re paying to put your kids through school.”And Republicans, he said, appear to have less of a neighbor-to-neighbor effort than they did in 2004, when George W. Bush carried Colorado with 52 percent of the vote.”The Republican ground game doesn’t appear to be as organized as it was. Four years ago, it was impressive.”Back in Fort Collins, where Hispanic Obama volunteers sold Mexican food and cheered for down-ticket Democrats talking up Obama, rally attendees said it’s an easy task to get their neighbors interested in voting. In Colorado this year, they say, there’s interest like they’ve never seen in the presidential contest.”Part of it was holding the convention here. Part of it’s the issues,” said Gloria Balderrama of Fort Collins, 58, a retired office manager who held an “Obamanos!” sign at the rally.”People just want to come out and vote, no matter who it’s for.”
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