MORRISON, Colo. — Four years ago, Barack Obama used this state as both a stage for his nominating convention and a place to show how his new brand of politics could unite young voters, women and minorities to create a winning coalition even in places that normally back Republican presidential candidates.
Now Colorado has become an example of how hard it has been for him to maintain that coalition against the headwinds of a sour economy and his own disastrous first debate performance in Denver.
Republicans and Democrats alike agree that Colorado is a toss-up in this election. Like other battleground states, a slight Obama polling edge before October here has been transformed into a deadlock. That’s because independent suburban women — the key demographic in this closely divided state — are taking a second look at Romney. Some analysts see an enthusiasm gap between Obama’s supporters and his rival’s. And the president’s attacks on Romney’s wealth may resonate less here than in blue-collar Midwestern battlegrounds like Ohio.
“He should be doing better and he isn’t,” said independent pollster Floyd Ciruli, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. “It’s the worst (swing) state of the bunch for him; isn’t that amazing? It’s the place we thought he could use as a model.”
Though the state has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1968, Obama won it by 9 percentage points in 2008. The president is now tied in most public polls here, as well as nationally.
The Romney campaign tried to capitalize on that dynamic Tuesday night with a high-profile appearance of Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, joined by musicians Kid Rock and Rodney Atkins at historic Red Rocks Amphitheater.
“We’re in the homestretch now and I think the people of Colorado are going to get us all the way there,” Romney told an ecstatic crowd of about 10,000.
Obama was due to hold another rally in Denver on today.
Kenneth Bickers, a political scientist at the famously liberal University of Colorado, Boulder, said Obama is suffering from an enthusiasm gap. He said that despite two Obama campaign visits here, he sees far less enthusiasm than he did four years ago. “If there’s an enthusiasm gap on the Boulder campus, where I am, that’s the canary in the coal mine,” he said.