President Barack Obama launched a two-day campaign swing through Colorado on Wednesday with an appeal aimed at the crucial battleground state’s women voters, warning that his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, intended to yank the nation back to the 1950s when it comes to women’s rights.
Greeted with thunderous cheers of “Four more years,” Obama smiled and told the crowd, “If we win Colorado, I’ll get four more years.”
Obama addressed a crowd estimated at 4,000 inside a packed Auraria Events Center on the University of Colorado Denver campus, the first of four campaign stops in Colorado on a tour billed primarily as offering a choice between the two candidates’ economic proposals.
But the rally in Denver made clear the Obama campaign’s Colorado plan to build on U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s improbable win over Republican challenger Ken Buck in the 2010 election. The Democrat’s campaign — helmed by Craig Hughes, the same strategist serving as Obama’s lead consultant in Colorado this time around — labeled Buck an “extremist” on women’s issues and squeaked out a narrow win by carrying suburban women by a wide margin.
Obama slammed his Republican opponent on at least three fronts, charging that his economic proposals threaten a return to the kind of policies “that got us in this mess in the first place,” and warning about Romney’s promise to “take the Affordable Care Act and kill it dead — on the first day of his presidency — kill it dead.” There was no doubt, however, that this rally was aimed squarely at women, who made up a large majority of the audience and completely filled the bleachers behind the president.
“When it comes to a women’s right to make her own health-care choices, they want to take the country back to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st Century,” he said over a cacophonous din of cheers and boos. “Colorado, you’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Underscoring the rally’s theme — made explicit by the campaign’s signs and banners reading “Women’s Health Security” — was the woman campaigning with the president for the first time, recent Georgetown University law school graduate Sandra Fluke. She rocketed to national attention earlier this year when conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she testified before Congress about women’s access to contraceptives. Limbaugh later apologized.
“When I was publicly attacked for speaking out before members of Congress, I became more aware than ever that this election will decide whether the rights that generations of women have fought for will be rolled back,” Fluke told the crowd. “And make no mistake about it, those rights can be rolled back, and in the blink of an eye.”
Fluke said the difference between the two candidates couldn’t be more clear. After her name filled the headlines in March, she said, Obama was swift to support her.
“He defended my right to speak without being attacked and he condemned those hateful words,” Fluke said. “Mr. Romney could only say that those weren’t the words he would have chosen,” she added, as the crowd vocalized its disapproval.
“Well, Mr. Romney,” she continued, “you’re not going to be the candidate we choose. If Mr. Romney cannot stand up to extreme voices in his own party, then we know he’ll never stand up for us, and he won’t defend the rights that generations of women have fought for.”
Fluke said she was astonished that the country was still fighting over questions she said she thought had been settled before she was born, including “access to contraception and whether a woman has a right to make her own health-care decisions.”
An Obama supporter blows bubbles to the delight of the crowd at a rally for President Barack Obama on Aug. 8 on the University of Colorado Denver campus. The bubbles, she said, were leftover from a wedding she recently attended.
Republicans derided Obama’s speech as “pandering to women… by hoping to distract from the devastating effects Obama’s policies have had on female voters,” in a statement issued by the Republican National Committee from RNC Co-Chair Sharon Day. Pointing to high unemployment among women and rising grocery prices, Day charged, “Women are worse off today thanks to President Obama, and political stunts cannot change that.
After the Denver rally, Obama headed for an afternoon event at Grand Junction High School and then to Pueblo, where he planned to speak on Thursday morning at the state fairgrounds. His final appearance in the state was a speech set for Thursday afternoon at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
Obama’s swing through the state came on the heels of a trio of contradictory polls that depict Colorado as among the closest states in the presidential race. On Tuesday, Public Policy Polling said that Obama was ahead by 6 points, while a Rasmussen Reports survey released the same day showed a dead heat, with the candidates tied at 47 percent. The next day, a Quinnipiac University/NYT/CBS Swing State Poll put Romney ahead with a 5-point lead.
Romney kicked off a campaign swing through contested Western states last Thursday with a rally at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, followed by a rally in Basalt along with a line-up of Republican governors and a fundraiser in Aspen.
At press time, the Romney campaign bus was making its way from Greeley to Pueblo with top Romney vice presidential prospect U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio on board, along with U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez and state GOP Chairman Ryan Call. The Romney campaign announced that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal would campaign in El Paso County on Thursday.
It was Obama’s seventh visit to the metro area in the last year. The president unveiled his jobs program last September at Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School, talked about student loan debt inside the same Auraria gymnasium in October, rolled out clean energy proposals at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora in January, and talked education policy at the University of Colorado in Boulder in April. The president held a fundraiser in downtown Denver in May and last month visited family members and victims of the Aurora theater shooting at the University of Colorado hospital.