Even though the 2012 election is 15 months away, President Barack Obama’s campaign is already off to a fast start in Colorado, seen as a key battleground state in what is shaping up to be a tight presidential contest. Earlier this month, hundreds of Obama volunteers and summer interns fanned out up and down the Front Range as part of a national “Day of Action” meant to register voters and kick-start a massive organization that plans to keep going until next November.
“It’s exciting to see people’s enthusiasm,” said Jen Cheyne, state director of Organizing for America, the Obama campaign’s grassroots organizing operation. “The word on the ground is, people are getting excited about the 2012 election, there’s a sense of engagement.”
Cheyne, who stopped in at a number of the more than two dozen Colorado voter-registration drives that took place from dawn to dusk on July 16, said she was heartened by the turnout and pleased with what the campaign workers accomplished.
“Talking to people about the ways they can own a piece of this campaign is exciting,” she said.
The campaign is getting an early start — with offices already open and staffed in Denver and Fort Collins — since Obama is running unopposed rather than having to make it through a primary that left Democrats divided until months before the 2008 election. State organizers said they weren’t sure whether the Obama campaign will duplicate its 2008 campaign with offices throughout the state — on what seemed like nearly every corner, including in traditionally Republican counties — but suggested the more mature organization might not need as many storefronts.
“One thing that’s great about being part of this team is, we organize every way possible,” Cheyne said, adding that organizers are as likely to meet up in coffee shops, libraries or people’s homes as they are in official campaign offices.
Campaign officials declined to release the number of voters registered, but outside a library in Lakewood, volunteers were filling out forms — including change of address and requests to appear on Colorado’s permanent mail-ballot list — at a swift clip, with more than a dozen voters signing up in the space of an hour.
“The turnout was good,” said Emily Dulcan, state press secretary. “We had a lot of new people involved, some volunteering for first time or who haven’t been engaged since 2008.”
At this stage, she said, new volunteers include “people who are most excited about the president, whose lives have been changed by policies he’s implemented. There are a lot of those people out there.” She said federal health care reform legislation and extended unemployment benefits were among policies making life easier for Coloradans.
“Every day we’re building our organization, recruiting volunteers, building neighborhood teams, building our social media presence — that’s going to be a real key to the campaign this year,” said Dulcan.
Though Obama took Colorado easily three years ago, beating McCain by 8 points statewide and scoring wins in counties that usually lean Republican, his campaign has its work cut out for it this time, a seemingly common-sense observation that made headlines last week when Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged as much to the website Politico.
Still, the state’s recently elected Democratic Party chairman, Rick Palacio, said this week that he fully expects Obama to defeat whoever the Republicans nominate, in part because the make-up of the state’s electorate is changing.
“Colorado is definitely a state that is a swing state, probably a prime example of the definition of the swing state,” said Palacio. “Young voters, women and Latinos are going to make the decision in 2012 the same way they did in 2010. That was the formula that delivered Gov. Hickenlooper and Sen. (Michael) Bennet, and it’s the same formula that’s going to deliver Colorado for President Obama in 2012,” he said, citing two statewide wins by Democrats during a year that otherwise favored Republicans.
In addition, Palacio said, Obama won’t be running against a generic Republican, but against a particular candidate to emerge from a wide-open nominating process that could take until next summer.
“I don’t know that there’s a single Republican candidate out there that has appeal to those three constituencies,” Palacio said.
His counterpart, recently elected GOP Chairman Ryan Call, acknowledged that Republican presidential candidates aren’t doing much organizing in Colorado yet — devoting resources in the state to fundraising, primarily — but promised the state party is laying the groundwork for next year’s election.
“We plan on having a significant and significantly expanded get-out-the-vote and ground-game operation with an emphasis on organizing in each and every neighborhood,” Call told The Colorado Statesman.
He said he is “surprised at the level of energy and enthusiasm we’re seeing early on in this process,” and added that he believes Republican presidential hopefuls are going to surprise folks. “We have a significant advantage because of the wide-open primary,” he said. “The strength of the field is much stronger than the press or our Democratic friends are giving us credit for.”
In all, the Obama campaign sponsored 28 events in one day along the northern Front Range, including five in Larimer County and six in Jefferson County, which, along with Arapahoe County, represent key swing votes in a key swing state. While the July 16 voter registration drives were promoted as part of a national push on that day, the campaign isn’t taking it easy the rest of the time, OFA officials said, pointing to phone banks and door-to-door canvassing efforts that have been operating nonstop since the health care debates two summers ago.
The Obama campaign counts roughly 1,500 full- and part-time summer interns nationwide, including several dozen in Colorado, and is recruiting a batch of fall interns this month. Next on the campaign’s calendar: dozens of house parties celebrating Obama’s 50th birthday on Aug. 3.