Colorado “ground zero” for 2008 election

Barack Obama’s campaign manager told Colorado journalists the state could make the difference in the November election. “Colorado is ground zero in the presidential campaign,” Plouffe said in a conference call Thursday, according to the Pueblo Chieftan. “It’s one of the three Western states, along with New Mexico and Nevada — and I’d even add Montana to that list now — that we can win.”

Plouffe said a surge in voter registration in Colorado could tip the state’s nine electoral votes from the Republican column, where the state has fallen in nine out of the last 10 elections. Since the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964, only the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign has carried the state for Democrats, and that was with 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Ross Perot.

“It’s great to see the kind of registration we’re getting,” said Plouffe … “In the 2004 election, the (President) Bush campaign did a good job of ‘maxing out’ the Republican vote, but we think the most growth potential is among Democrats and there is an enormous amount of work being done on the ground.”

The Rocky Mountain News cites Plouffe’s electoral math:

“If we’re able to hold on to all of John Kerry’s states, which would give us 252 electoral votes, win a couple leaning our way right now — Iowa and New Mexico — that would put us on 264, and we’d be right on the doorstep.”

Plouffe said the Obama campaign is in better shape than Kerry in 2004, when Colorado ceased to be a battleground state in the waning days of the election and President Bush won the state by about 5 points.

Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report agrees with Plouffe’s assessment in an article posted Friday on Real Clear Politics:

A month from now, the national landscape could look very different. The contest for the White House might have blown wide open. But at this point, with the race looking very tight, Colorado surely is one of the key swing states, and it now looks like the best indicator of how the nation will go.

In July, Rothenberg pegged five states — Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada and Michigan — as the crucial swing states that will determine the election. This week, the national political analyst narrowed his prediction, based on polling and electoral vote trends.

I’ve become convinced that my initial list of five states probably can be boiled down to just one — one state that is most likely to determine who will be the next occupant of the White House. And that state is Colorado.

Here’s how Rothenberg tallies the race to the required 270 electoral votes:

If John McCain carries Colorado in November, I’d expect him to hold onto all of George W. Bush’s 2000 states, with the exception of New Hampshire. If he does that, and if Obama holds all of Al Gore’s states, plus New Hampshire, McCain would win 274 electoral votes to 264 for Obama.

If Obama carries the state, he has altered the arithmetic of the Electoral College so as to make it difficult for McCain to win.

It’s true, of course, that Obama could win Colorado and still lose the election. Republicans continue to look at Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota as possible swing states they could win to offset the loss of Colorado or Virginia. But if there is a single state among this group that is most likely to switch parties and therefore determine the winner of the presidential contest, it now appears to be the Centennial State.

August voter registration numbers back up Plouffe’s contention that the state could swing.

Total registration in Colorado is up to 3,022,067, an increase of 118,691 since January. Democrats claim a substantial majority of those new voters, with 74,667 signing up this year, more than four times the rate Republicans have added voters and almost three times the rate unaffiliateds have grown. Republicans still hold a bare edge in statewide registration, with 1,029,062, ahead of 1,022,575 unaffiliated voters and 955,428 Democrats.

The deadline for Colorado residents to register is Oct. 6 and early voting by mail starts the next day. Visit the Colorado Secretary of State’s election page for links to registration forms, to verify registration, and to request a mail ballot.

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Ernest Luning

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