This community of 18,000 Coloradans is mostly known as the home of Coors beer. But right now the rustic town along the foothills of the Rockies matters for a more important reason: Golden is the county seat of Jefferson County, which is one of the three most pivotal counties in one of the most pivotal states in the presidential race.
What happens in Golden and its county between now and Election Day will have a greater impact on determining the nation’s next leader than will voters in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York.
So welcome to Ground Zero of presidential politics. Colorado, like Ohio, Florida and a few other states, is where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are battling it out voter by voter, rally by rally, community by community.
To cut to the chase, I have no idea who wins Colorado. Anybody who tells you they do know is guessing. The latest Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows the candidates tied at 48 percent. Based on interviews I had with voters in this county, as well as in up-for-grabs Arapahoe County in suburban Denver and Larimer County near Fort Collins, I agree this race is tight.
There aren’t many undecideds left, either. I spoke with only a handful who struck me as really uncertain.
Colorado, then, comes down to each campaign’s ability to turn out its voters. Their machines are clicking – 20 percent of Coloradoans had voted as of Friday. (Early voting and mail-in ballots are popular here.)
The Obama campaign brought in Laurence Fishburne and other actors Saturday to rev up voters. Their stops included speaking to about 100 supporters at an office park in Arapahoe County’s middle-class Aurora. The Romney team brought in Republican senators John Thune and Kelly Ayotte to engage voters. James Garcia, Romney’s Colorado campaign manager, told me Republicans have knocked on three times as many doors as in 2008.
This is the grunt work of politics, but it will determine who wins.
I confess to a case of envy. Coloradans are witnessing a real live race, including plenty of Obama and Romney visits.
That’s not so in Texas. Or California or New York. The three largest states are mostly cash machines for candidates.
Ignoring largest states
That is not healthy for our democracy. The largest states are virtually ignored. So are most states, especially when you look to the recent past.
The National Journal reports that John Kennedy campaigned in 45 states, while Richard Nixon visited all 50. Romney and Obama have campaigned in just 10 states since June.
Their list is short because most states are predictably Republican or Democratic. In 1960, that wasn’t so. Seventeen states were decided by less than 3 points. Numerous others were decided by less than 5 percent or 7 percent.
The decline in competitive states is because we increasingly live in neighborhoods, towns and states where people think like us. There is no snap-of-the-fingers answer for this phenomenon, but it is a primary reason we have such discord in Washington. Few members of Congress represent constituencies with vast differences of thought. (Independent redistricting commissions could generate competition by drawing less-partisan congressional districts.)
Colorado defies the stereotype because it is pretty evenly divided among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. The state’s frontier mentality contributes to independent thinkers not wanting to join either party.
The competition also is why a place like Golden matters. The race will be won at the end by targeting slices of voters – young women and Latinos for Obama, men and suburbanites for Romney – in swing states.
I don’t see how the eventual victor can cobble together a national mandate with such micro appeals, but welcome to swing-state politics. This will determine the presidency for the rest of us.
William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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