Changing landscape makes Colorado tough state to call for presidential race

Chris Togneri
| Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

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

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