West Slope independents will carry Colorado for Obama, experts say

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s decision to stop in Grand Junction and Pueblo might seem a bit odd, given that most of Colorado’s voters are on the Front Range. However, political observers said
Thursday that Obama’s choice of venues makes perfect sense.

John Redifer, political science professor at Mesa State College, said the battle for Colorado this year hinges on independent voters. And, he said, there is no better place to connect with that bloc than Grand Junction and Pueblo.

“I think the choice of (Alaska Gov. Sarah) Palin for a vice president for (Republican John) McCain has really upped the ante for Obama in these western states,” Redifer said. “She has a lot of appeal with independents.”

During a July stop in Grand Junction, Congressman John Salazar, D-Colo., said for Obama to carry Colorado, he has to carry the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Grand Junction and Pueblo.

Eric Wortman, spokesman for Salazar, said the congressman is thrilled Obama plans to work on meeting the challenge of appealing to rural Coloradans.

“If you can win there, you will win the state,” Wortman said.

The Democratic tide in Colorado began in 2004 when Democrats took over the 3rd Congressional District and a Republican U.S. Senate seat even as the state voted for President George W. Bush.

Gov. Bill Ritter continued in the tradition of Salazar and his younger brother, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., when he won throughout the state, including on the Western Slope.

The Democratic Party decided last year to host its national convention in Denver, memorializing its rise in the Rocky Mountain West.

Throughout that convention, western Democratic leaders, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, predicted Democrats will continue to win out West.

Recent polling, however, shows that Palin’s place on the McCain ticket has helped tighten the presidential race in the West and in other primarily rural states.

Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster and political consultant, said Obama could be working to head off McCain’s gains in western Colorado. He said Obama’s Grand Junction stop could be part of a plan to repeat the strategy behind the Salazar and Ritter wins.

“The strategy of winning in the West and in Colorado,” Ciruli said, “is not only to play to your base but to take the edge off areas you’re going to lose.”


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