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Obama RV tour aims to court rural Colorado voters

Sara Burnett
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
Preston Gannaway/Rocky Mountain NewsSen. Ken Salazar talks with Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp, center, and former Gov. Roy Romer as the Democrats' RV tour rolls through Greeley on Wednesday.
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Former Gov. Roy Romer walked into The Bible Lighthouse Christian bookstore just off Main Street and right up to the woman behind the counter.

Introducing himself, the former Democratic governor explained he was in town campaigning for Barack Obama.

The upcoming election is the most important he’s seen in 30 or 40 years, Romer told her.



The woman, alone in the quiet store, gave a polite smile and a slight nod. I’ve been praying a lot about it, she said.

Then silence.



Taking his cue, Romer thanked the clerk and headed for the door.

On his way, he looked to his right, at a glass case filled with Precious Moments figurines with a display of books on top:

Sarah, the biography of Republican John McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.



The Audacity of Deceit, subtitled Barack Obama’s war on American values.

And Obama Nation, which rankled the Obama campaign with claims that, among other things, the Illinois senator has ties to militant Islam.

Romer stopped for a few seconds, hands in the pockets of his leather bomber jacket, scanning the titles.

Saying nothing, he walked out of the store.

Wooing rural voters

Romer’s visit to Sterling, a city of about 12,500 in northeast Colorado, was the first stop of a three-day rural RV tour that ended Friday with a dinner in Dillon.

The tour, which hit more than a dozen communities across the state, was intended to siphon off supporters of Sen. John McCain in counties where Republicans traditionally have sailed to easy wins.

It may be a tall order.

In 2004, voters in Sterling and the rest of Logan County supported President Bush over Sen. John Kerry, 68 percent to 27 percent.

A September poll commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Kentucky, showed McCain leading Obama by 10 points in rural areas of 13 battleground states, including Colorado.

But Romer, who’s not afraid of challenges – including taking the helm of Los Angeles public schools – thinks Obama “can do amazingly well here.”

People are concerned about the economy, and they’ve lost confidence in the current administration, he said moments after leaving the Christian book store.

Sure, there are hard-core Republicans here. But some voters – “only some” – are open to change.

“There is a moderate, middle group that swings elections,” Romer said. “I know this because I won three times as governor in a Republican state, that was much more Republican than it is now.”

‘Any vote matters’

The McCain campaign bristles at the notion that Obama might appeal to rural voters.

They point out the Illinois senator was born in Hawaii and now calls Chicago home.

“To say that Obama understands rural America is laughable,” McCain spokesman Tom Kise said Friday, adding that the Democrat “has repeatedly mocked and insulted rural Americans.”

“Obama does not even know what a trailer hitch is on the back of a pickup truck,” Kise said. “He says we are bitter and cling to our guns and our religion. He must have watched one too many episodes of Paris Hilton on The Simple Life if he thinks he undestands rural America.”

McCain has a chairman in every county, active volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls and offices in Eagle and Grand Junction, Kise added.

“We’re making sure we’re reaching out to the farthest reaches of the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, the heavy hitters Obama had on this week’s tour indicate the campaign’s confidence: Romer, Sen. Ken Salazar, Gov. Bill Ritter – people who wouldn’t take their time if they didn’t think it would cultivate votes.

In stop after stop, they called Obama “a champion” for rural communities.

They spoke about his support for the federal farm bill and McCain’s opposition to it – a decision Kise said was because the bill was “ladened” with pork-barrel spending.

His supporters also called Obama the steady and deliberate decision maker who can lead the country out of the current economic crisis.

And they pointed to his support for alternative energy – a way to fuel Colorado’s rural communities – and the water compacts that keep the state’s farms alive.

The message resonated with Don Simms of Sterling, a retired Democrat who admits he’s in the minority in Logan County.

“We don’t need four more years of the last eight,” Simms said.

Norman Provizer, political science professor at Metro State College of Denver, said the rural RV tour is in keeping with Obama’s philosophy to campaign even in areas not traditionally friendly to Democrats.

Just as Obama has gained ground in places like Virginia and North Carolina, he also could pick up votes in rural Colorado.

If he gets even a few percentage points more than Kerry did in 2004, it could be enough – added to strong support in strongholds like Denver and Boulder – for Obama to win the state’s nine electoral votes.

“Any vote matters, no matter where it is,” Provizer said.

Wednesday afternoon at the Fireside Restaurant in Windsor, Salazar told the crowd of about 25 people as much.

Coloradans have the opportunity to deliver the electoral votes to put Obama over the top, Salazar said.

“Are we going to do that together?” he asked.

The audience clapped heartily and responded with a yell.

“Yes!”

On the road

Barack Obama’s campaign toured rural Colorado counties this week. A look at how some of them voted in the 2004 presidential election between Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry:

* Logan County: 68 percent for Bush, 27 percent for Kerry

* Morgan County: 68 percent for Bush, 30 percent for Kerry

* Weld County: 62 percent for Bush, 36 percent for Kerry

* Montrose County: 66 percent for Bush, 28 percent for Kerry

* Mesa County: 67 percent for Bush, 31 percent for Kerry


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