NEW YORK TIMES
By Carl Hulse
September 1, 2012
As President Obama navigates the battleground states that will determine whether he wins a second term, his campaign strategists have unfolded a road map for one in particular. And they are following it closely as the best route to their destination.
Desperate to win Colorado and its nine electoral votes, the Obama campaign is trying to assemble the same coalition that Senator Michael Bennet built in 2010, when he managed to win a full term against a conservative Republican in a year in which Democrats struggled both in Colorado and nationally.
Mr. Bennet, a surprise pick to fill a Senate vacancy in 2009 who was considered to be at great peril of losing the seat, capitalized on a yawning gender gap and strong support among Hispanics to win. In the process, he showed the way for the Obama campaign to try to pull off a victory in the state despite his lagging popularity among white men.
"We did stitch together a winning coalition in 2010, and I think that coalition is part of the basis of what they are doing here in Colorado," said Mr. Bennet, who works closely with the White House and is assisting in the president's re-election effort.
Colorado, which will host the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, is unmistakably a top Obama target. The president has been to the state 11 times since being elected, and a visit on Sunday will be his seventh this year alone.
The campaign has opened more than 50 field offices in Colorado, compared with about a dozen for his Republican rival, Mitt Romney. It has also brought on members of Mr. Bennet's team, including his chief political strategist, Craig Hughes, to provide their local expertise.
At the moment, Colorado is considered a pure tossup. Most iterations of the electoral map show it to be essential not only for the president to win but also to provide a foundation of support in the West.
The Obama campaign believes that it has the advantage, given its edge in registering voters in the state and Mr. Romney's positions on immigration and women's issues.
"You'd rather be us than them," said Jim Messina, the president's campaign manager and a Denver-born former aide to Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who is widely recognized for his knowledge about what works for Democrats in the difficult political terrain of the Mountain States.
Republicans say they think Mr. Romney can carry Colorado because of dissatisfaction over the economy among its voters even those who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 and Mr. Bennet two years later. They expect social issues to play less of a role in the race. Still, they concede, it is very close.
"It could go either way," said Dick Wadhams, a former head of the state Republican Party and a Colorado campaign strategist. "It is a game of inches."
Democrats and Republicans believe that the outcome will be decided by voters in the suburban Denver counties of Arapahoe and Jefferson, particularly women but also Hispanics the same voters who were so crucial to Mr. Bennet in 2010.
He was up against Ken Buck, a state prosecutor who had won a primary against Jane Norton, a former lieutenant governor, despite some notable flubs, including his saying that he was a stronger candidate "because I do not wear high heels." Remarks like that, and his opposition to abortion in the case of rape or incest, provided an opening for Mr. Bennet to reach out to Republican and independent women who were conservative on economic issues but were wary of tough social stances a hallmark of Colorado swing voters.
To gain ground, Mr. Bennet hammered Mr. Buck on the abortion issue and a rape case that he had declined to prosecute, which he explained by saying the victim might have had buyers remorse.
Mr. Bennet also ran an ad with a Denver obstetrician-gynecologist accusing Mr. Buck of being too extreme on the issue of womens health. Mr. Bennets wife, Susan, and their three young daughters campaigned heavily for him.
The strategy paid off. Mr. Bennet won narrowly, by about 15,000 votes, but he piled up about twice as many votes as Mr. Buck among Hispanics and ended up with a 17-percentage-point edge among women the best showing in all of the Senate races that year.
The Obama campaign was clearly paying attention. Mr. Obama recently campaigned in the state with Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who got caught up in a battle over resistance to administration efforts to require health insurers to provide contraception. And the campaign is running ads in an effort to appeal to women.
One features two women discussing their fears about Mr. Romney being too extreme and out of touch on womens health issues and his opposition to Planned Parenthood. I think Mitt Romney would definitely drag us back, one of the women says.
No one expects Mr. Obama to rack up the kind of margin with women that Mr. Bennet did. But the campaign is hoping to make up that difference with an ambitious outreach to younger voters, who did not vote in large numbers in 2010.
Mr. Wadhams, the Republican strategist, said he thought that Democrats were overplaying their hand on abortion in Colorado and that socially moderate Republican women and independents who were willing to support the president and Mr. Bennet were open to Mr. Romney if he delivered the right appeal.
They want to vote for Mitt Romney if he can give them the sense that he will make the economy better, Mr. Wadhams said. In this election, I think they are far more anxious absolutely terrified about the future of the economy.
Mr. Bennet said he was convinced that women in Colorado would strongly favor the president, given the record of Republicans in Washington and Mr. Romneys views on issues they see as crucial.
I am not sure there has been an election where women have a clearer choice, he said.