BOULDER– In a speech that alternated between conversational asides and full-throat exhortations, President Obama rallied roughly 11,000 supporters at the packed Coors Event Center on the University of Colorado campus here Thursday. It was the latest but not the last scheduled event in the high-intensity swing-state get-out-the-vote effort his campaign here has orchestrated for the final short stretch to Election Day next week.
“I need you young people to turn out the vote,” he said to wrap up his pitch, music swelling in the hall. “I need you to vote early. I need you to knock on doors, make some phone calls. Do that, and we’ll win Colorado again this year, we’ll finish the work we started.”
The event signaled to anyone who might still be wondering that the persuasion phase of the campaign is long over and that now it’s a matter of simply getting supporters to the polls.
It was the President’s third visit this year to this iconic college town, the liberal heart of the state, a place chock full of college students and organic produce, where high-tech companies and clean energy research and development thrive. It’s a place the Obama campaign is working hard to make sure supporters vote in large numbers and also help turn out supporters across the rest of the state.
The President and all of the other speakers at the event hit on themes meant to energize the voter blocs Obama drew out in historic numbers in 2008, namely young people, women and minority voters.
“We want to elect a president that champions a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health,” said Boulder resident and openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, drawing loud cheers, “a president who believes adult Americans can marry whomever they want to marry.”
Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who won a nail-biter election in the 2010 Tea Party-wave year by courting women and young people, referenced the fact that Obama ended the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy that for 20 years banned gay soldiers from serving openly.
“Help us elect Barack Obama, who worked to make sure our LGBT friends can serve our country free of intimidation and discrimination,” he said. “Will you vote? Vote!” he said, starting up a call and response interaction with the crowd. “Vote.” “Vote.” “Vote.”
The speakers similarly all took turns reminding the crowd that today, Friday, is the last day of in-person early voting in Colorado.
For the last week, the buzz in political circles here has spun around the vote totals now tumbling out of the secretary of state’s office every day. The percentages have remained fairly static, with registered Republicans so far leading the pack. Republicans have returned roughly 38 percent of ballots and Democrats roughly 35 percent. Observers predict the numbers will begin to shift notably over the next 24 hours, when the ballots of traditionally lagging left-leaning voters and less-partisan unaffiliated voters– the largest voter bloc in the state– begin to arrive at clerks’ offices in greater volume.
“I think it’s generally true that young voters turn out later,” Steve Fenberg, director of youth-voter registration organization New Era Colorado told the Independent. “A lot of this depends on counties. In Boulder, for example, the campus early-voter center wasn’t open until this Monday. Elsewhere, they’ve been open for two weeks.”
Democrats have been confident that a majority of the state’s unaffiliated voters will ultimately cast ballots for Democratic candidates. Fenberg said he thought young people, at least, are more likely to register as unaffiliateds. He said there was no primary this year on the Democratic side, for example, so motivation was low to register early as a Democrat, no matter which side of the political spectrum a voter might lean toward.
“It’s pretty clear a lot of young people are going to vote Democratic but they haven’t grown up in a party structure and they don’t want to be labeled,” he said.
Roughly 1.5 million of 3.6 million registered voters have already cast their ballots in Colorado. Pollsters have recently given Obama the edge in the race but all projected leads are well within the margins of error.
Wedged on the stage between sections of the crowd waving campaign signs, Obama reviewed accomplishments he said he has made during the last four years, now familiar stump speech talking points. He dug the economy out of the ruins of the financial crisis that was still building when he came into office, he said. He bet on the American people and made the decision, unpopular at the time, to bail out the auto industry. He ended the war in Iraq and went after al Qaida in Afghanistan, finding and killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He re-energized the manufacturing sector and boosted domestic energy production to long-term record levels by encouraging more oil and gas drilling and investing big in clean energy research and development.
On that last point, Obama referenced a story gaining traction recently here of Colorado’s bankrupt Abound Solar company, which received millions of dollars in government loans, perhaps with White House help, but that has been plagued by production problems.
He told the crowd that he was committed to supporting the renewable-energy industry to create American jobs for decades to come.
“Sure, not every business is going to fully succeed,” he said. “But there’s a future for clean energy in America. I’m not going to cede that future to countries overseas.”
Obama also took aim at the economic policies being advanced by his Republican rival Mitt Romney. He tied Romney’s proposed policies to those of the Bush era and his own policies to the policies of the Clinton era.
“For eight years we had a president who shared our vision. His name was Bill Clinton. He asked wealthy Americans to pay a little more in taxes. He paid down the budget deficit and created a surplus. We know our ideas work.
“We also know what ideas don’t work. Because in the eight years after Clinton, his ideas were reversed. We saw falling incomes, the slowest job growth in a century and an economic crisis we’ve been cleaning up for the last four years. We’ve tested both visions. One worked well. One worked very badly.”
Warming up for Obama, it was U.S. Sen. Mark Udall who let loose perhaps one of the most typically Boulder criticisms of Romney. Udall mocked the candidate as a flip-flopper, pointing out that Romney wouldn’t say directly whether or not he supported equal pay for women or a path to citizenship for undocumented students brought to the United States when they were children.
“We know what this is in Boulder,” Udall said. “Romney has taken more positions than a yoga instructor.”
The presidential campaigns have scheduled a slew of events in Colorado over the next two days. Obama is scheduled to speak in Aurora on Sunday. Romney will speak at rallies in Colorado Springs and Greenwood Village on Saturday, the same day Vice President Biden will speak in Pueblo and Arvada.
The Republican and Democratic rallies here this year have underlined the cultural split that can sometimes characterize this fast-evolving state, where the old Colorado of libertarian ranchers and oil-and-gas roughnecks bleeds into the new Colorado of information-industry wizards and new-economy entrepreneurs.
Romney appeared at Red Rocks two weeks ago flanked by hip-hop country-fried phenom Kid Rock and straight-up country star Rodney Atkins.
At the Coors Center Thursday, quirky Seattle band The Head And The Heart filled the enormous metal and cement structure with ethereal string-heavy pieces, the band another entry in what political wonk Ana Marie Cox suggests might now be referred to as the “Horses and Bayonets” Indie Rockers for Obama movement.
In Boulder, the cultural divide was a source of tension and humor.
“Romney doesn’t even go to college campuses,” said one of the throng of students moving out of the back of the hall as Obama inched through the crowd on the floor near the stage shaking hands. The deadpan remark said to no one in particular drew a surprising amount of laughter all around, as if it were a hard-core zinger.
The crack got its wind from the fairly stunning fact that in our two-party political system, Romney’s party has effectively written off the youth vote, bolstering the impression that its leaders are more interested in an America of the past than an America of the future.
In the 2000 presidential election, Americans under thirty split their votes evenly between the parties. By 2008, what the Pew Foundation has called an unprecedented generational shift had occurred with Obama winning 66 percent of the youth vote, a disparity in support separating young people from any other voting demographic unrivaled in the 40 years Pew has been conducting exit polls. Obama is on track to at least match that margin this year, win or lose.
“Romney visited some midwest colleges, I think,” someone else said.
“Someplace they don’t teach science,” said a student sporting nerd-chic horn-rim glasses.
“Someplace where there’s no bars,” said another.
[ Images of President Obama at the CU-Boulder Coors Center by TCI ]