If I had to predict the outcome of this year’s presidential race and could be told in advance the outcome in just one state, I’d pick Ohio. Colorado would be my second choice.
The Denver Post identifies three counties as the key to winning Colorado — Arapahoe, Jefferson and Larimer. Obama carried all three in 2008; Bush carried all three in 2004. The key in both elections was the unaffiliated voters of these counties.
This time around, according to the Denver Post, unaffiliated voters present a real problem for Obama. The main difficulty is that their top concerns are the economy and jobs, followed by the federal deficit and budget. The unemployment rate in the three counties has been slowly declining, but it is only slightly below the national percentage.
Not surprisingly, then, Obama’s approval rating has suffered. An April poll had him at 42 percent in Arapahoe County and only 36 percent in Jefferson County, described by the Denver Post as “the state’s quintessential bellwether.”
Obama’s main hope is to paint Romney as an extremist. In 2010, conservative, anti-establishment Republican Ken Buck narrowly lost the three key counties because, says the Post, Democrat Michael Bennet was able to portray Buck as “extreme.”
Fortunately, Romney will be more difficult to portray this way than Buck, something of a loose cannon, was. Moreover, Bennet had more flexibility in staking out a place toward the center of the spectrum than Obama does. The image of Obama as anything other than an out-and-out leftist will not wash this year.
Romney’s flexibility is also limited, as a result of his uncompromising positions on issues like abortion and immigration. But if he can come across as tonally moderate, something Buck failed to accomplish, that may be enough to satisfy the unaffiliated voters of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Larimer counties who, in the Denver Post’s telling, seem ready for a change at the top.