Share This Page

Changing landscape makes Colorado tough state to call for presidential race

| Monday, Oct. 8, 2012,
Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks as his sons Matt Romney (L) and Josh Romney look on during the regional Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Oct. 4, 2012 in Denver. One day after the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney spoke to the CPAC before heading to Virginia to campaign with his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). (Getty Images)
Getty Images
President Obama speaks during a campaign rally at Sloan's Lake Park on Oct. 4, 2012 in Denver. Obama spoke the morning after the first Presidential debate at the University of Denver. (Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has alienated every voting bloc except older white men and has no chance of winning the Nov. 6 election.

Lucky for him, his opponent, President Obama, is saddled with low approval ratings and a stagnant economy — factors that show Romney cannot lose.

Two schools of thought, one school system. Such divergent views, from colleagues at the University of Colorado Denver, illustrate voter division in that swing state.

Tony Robinson, chairman of the campus' political science department, believes “tectonic demographic changes” are transforming the conservative mountain West. Young, tech-savvy, professional centrists and liberals are moving in from both coasts, he said, giving increased political clout to urban centers and drawing power away from traditional Colorado voters such as ranchers.

“More latte, less lasso,” Robinson said of the shift. “These are voters who are not attracted to what's been going on in the Republican Party, the increasing hard edge, non-compromising conservatism. They want politics of pragmatism and compromise, and the Republicans have given up on that.”

It's a shift occurring throughout that region, he said.

“In Denver, Santa Fe, Jackson Hole, Missoula. ... In Colorado, Democrats are now dominant,” Robinson said. “Yes, the Republicans still have an edge in registration, but the largest party is independents, and they break heavily towards the Democrats.”

Political science professor Kenneth Bickers of CU Boulder views the political landscape differently.

Bickers and CU Denver professor Michael Berry created a prediction model that factors in several variables but relies heavily on economic data. By plugging in the factors and candidates in past elections, the model has predicted the winner in every presidential election since 1980.

This time — despite recent polls suggesting Obama has pulled ahead in swing states, including Colorado — the model predicts Romney will win.

“Polls are really good at some things, but they are not good at predicting well out into the future. There's a lot more evidence that economic data is,” Bickers said. “It'd be a remarkable thing to say that the economy doesn't matter this year. It's worse now than it has been in years when it did matter.”

Another factor, Bickers noted, is Obama's approval rating, which hovers around 48 percent. In the election, incumbents traditionally get 1 percentage point higher or lower than their approval rates, and that means Obama is vulnerable, he said.

As for the polls: “While Obama is leading in many swing states, there are very few polls where he's above 50 percent,” Bickers said. “Until he gets above 50, he's not really on dry ground and still potentially could be under water. It's a month out. ... This is not an election that looks at all tied up to me.”

Tari Wilde is part of the demographic changes Robinson sees transforming the region. She hopes the Bickers-Berry model is wrong.

Wilde grew up in a conservative family in Minnesota and moved to San Francisco after college, where she cultivated a more liberal perspective. She lived in California for 17 years and spent seven years in the Lake Tahoe area before moving to Denver last year.

“Denver is like a smaller version of San Francisco with all the startups and tech companies,” said Wilde, 43, a real estate professional. “And there's definitely this age group of people in their mid-30s to mid-40s, people who have relocated from the East Coast, the West Coast, even the Midwest, people who are super liberal.

“It feels like an Austin, Texas, to me: All around you is cattle ranching and conservatism, but here in Denver we live in an oasis of liberals.”

Of course, not everyone is liberal — not even in Wilde's home. Her boyfriend is conservative and leaning toward Romney.

“We don't talk about it a ton,” Wilde said.

Robinson believes Wilde, not her boyfriend, represents the new face of Colorado. She and others in the state will continue to gravitate toward the Democrats, Robinson said, unless the GOP “reboots” its message.

He compared the Republican Party of today with pre-Clinton Democrats.

“Great candidates are able to remake their party in their own image,” he said, citing Bill Clinton's rebuilding of the Democratic Party into a centrist, mainstream party. Romney, Robinson said, is “not remaking the party in his moderate business image; he's being remade by his party.”

“The only group that reliably votes Republican now is older white men. Latinos vote Democrat; young people vote Democrat; women vote Democrat. Add them all up, and you can't win a national race.”

That is, unless Romney does win.

And that's inevitable, according to Bickers' model.

“A lot of people think that whatever you predict is what you want to see happen, which is fine but not necessarily true,” Bickers said. “We get people who cast aspersions on our parentage, questioning our intelligence, our ethics, accusing us of being on (Republicans') payroll, which would be marvelous if they'd just send us a check.”

Bickers' advice: Take a deep breath and let voters decide, not pollsters.

“My point is that it's still too early to call the election,” he said. “The best way to figure out who's going to win is just to wait five weeks, and then you'll know.”

Chris Togneri is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.