In the aftermath of a debate in Denver last week that both sides agree dealt a setback to President Barack Obama’s campaign, Democrats launched a star-studded tour of the state in a final push to register voters, while Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign, buoyed by increasingly favorable poll results, exulted in a surge of volunteers that organizers predicted would presage a GOP victory.
Although Obama has been maintaining a nearly constant — if slim — lead in the polls in Colorado this year, the drubbing he took for a performance derided as lackluster in the first presidential debate could have thrown the state back into solid toss-up territory. Both Democrats and Republicans argue that the state’s nine electoral votes, which Obama won in 2008 by a 9-point margin, were always going to go down to the wire — it’s one of a handful of crucial battleground states that Romney must win in order to surmount a lead Obama holds in states that aren’t contested — but just a month before the election, neither side was conceding an inch.
Obama led in one poll of Colorado voters taken after the first presidential debate, ahead of Romney 47-43 in a survey commissioned by the University of Denver, but he trailed Romney by 4 points in an American Research Group poll released on Tuesday. The Republican had taken a 1-point lead in the state according to surveys aggregated by TPM’s PollTracker. Nationally, the site figured that Romney had pulled into a 2.4-percent lead by midweek.
“Let’s not take anything for granted, because, as we saw in that debate last week, the Republicans are willing to say and do anything they have to win back the White House,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Democrat, told a room full of Obama campaign workers in West Denver on Monday morning.
It was the day’s first stop of a statewide Obama RV tour — launched last Thursday following Obama’s first post-debate appearance, at a rally in front of more than 12,000 people on the shores of Sloan’s Lake in Denver — featuring prominent Democrats making a case that Romney’s debate performance, while aggressive, was inconsistent with the staunchly conservative candidate who emerged from Republican primaries earlier this year.
“I woke up last Thursday and I realized, here’s the October Surprise — Mitt Romney’s decided he’s moderate! That’s the October Surprise,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, echoing the attack. “If you break down what he was saying, it was all the same old, as he says, ‘severely conservative’ rhetoric, just said in kind of a gentler way. We can’t let him get away with that.”
Later that afternoon Romney delivered what was touted as a major foreign policy speech and continued to hammer Obama on the economy at appearances back east and in a raft of new TV ads airing in Colorado.
“America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years,” Romney said at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. “I am running for President because I believe the leader of the free world has a duty, to our citizens, and to our friends everywhere, to use America’s great influence — wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and active — to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better — not perfect, but better.”
In a TV ad that began airing in Colorado and other swing states this week, Romney blasted Obama for a moribund economy, using excerpts from the presidential debate.
“Look at the evidence of the last four years. It’s absolutely extraordinary,” he said. “We’ve got 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work in this country.” Then Romney adds, “The President would prefer raising taxes. I understand. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth.”
The Obama campaign contends that it’s Romney whose tax plan doesn’t add up, and that his promised 20-percent, across-the-board tax cut can’t help but shift the burden to middle class families without ballooning the deficit.
At a stop Monday on the RV tour, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper pointed national monthly unemployment figures — released on Friday, the rate drop to 7.8 percent, the lowest level since Obama took office — as evidence that Obama’s economic policies were working.
“President Obama inherited one of the worst financial situations of any president in the history of the United States. He took that, and now we’ve had 31 straight months of job growth, almost 5 million new jobs,” he said.
“Don’t let anyone say that the president has not been unbelievably successful,” Hickenlooper continued, citing the Obama administration’s support for small businesses.
“Look at the stock market. It’s hard to say this has not been a pro-American business,” Hickenlooper said, pointing to trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama — countering a persistent Romney campaign theme that Obama hasn’t signed any new trade agreements during his presidency.
But it was the man Hickenlooper said he got to know up close this summer, as Colorado reeled from devastating wildfires and a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, that Americans need to keep in office for a second term.
“With the fires and the shooting this summer, I spent a great deal of time in July with the president,” Hickenlooper said. “I have never met or known anyone who has the emotional depths that he has.”
Hickenlooper recounted memories of Obama’s visits to the state this summer, Hickenlooper said that it was meeting with firefighters who had been battling the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs.
“He would say to firefighters, ‘Don’t worry, we will make sure you have the resources to keep fighting these fires, we will make sure you have the equipment to keep fighting these fires, we will make sure you have the training. But the one thing we can’t train you on is courage. And your courage these past few weeks has been an inspiration, not just to me but to the entire United States.’ To have the president say that to you — and it was much more elegant than I can do it — he has the ability to lift people up at their worst moments.”
In between stops on the RV tour on Monday, Hickenlooper suggested a visit to Rosa Linda’s Mexican Café, a North Denver restaurant that found itself the target of threats last week after a newspaper report that its owners had refused to allow the Romney campaign to hold an event there earlier this summer.
The imbroglio stemmed from a misunderstanding, said Oscar Aguirre, the eldest son of the restaurant’s owners, after Democrats filled the restaurant and loaded up with burritos and enchiladas. Emissaries from the Romney campaign had dined at Rosa Linda’s over the summer and approached the owners — as Hispanic Mormons, Virgil and Rosalinda Aguirre would be ideal hosts — about holding some sort of event there in early August, but the family declined. In the heat of media attention on Denver during the debate last week, a mention of that fact by Westword’s dining columnist ricocheted around the Internet and the next thing the Aguirre family knew, they were receiving threats, though Oscar Aguirre said this week that the danger appears to have passed.
Politicos from both sides of the aisle have thronged to the restaurant since — including a visit for lunch by a dozen Romney staffers on Friday — and both sides denounced the reaction.
“The Romney campaign condemns this type of behavior in any situation,” said Romney campaign spokesman Chris Walker. “It’s unfortunate that incorrect information being circulated as facts has led these community leaders to receive these threats.”
“When you’re in business, you understand, everyone’s your customer, you can’t afford to lose half your customers,” said Hickenlooper, who owned several popular restaurants before embarking on a political career. “This is a nightmare,” he told Rosa Linda’s owners.
Romney held a telephone town hall with Colorado voters on Monday, but the campaign didn’t release details about the call and it was closed to the press.
In a memo released this week by the Romney campaign, RNC political director Rick Wiley boasted that the debate had ignited volunteer enthusiasm and was resulting in a robust chase for votes in key swing states, including Colorado.
“With Election Day only four weeks away, Republicans head into the final stretch with growing momentum,” Wiley wrote. “Our ground game is showing impressive results, boosted by Gov. Romney’s stellar debate performance. Our absentee and early voting operation is robust and in full gear. And the enthusiasm is on our side, just as voters in more than thirty states begin casting ballots.”
The deadline to register for the November election was midnight Tuesday. County clerks start sending out mail-in ballots on Oct. 15 and early voting starts around the state a week later.
In Colorado, the Romney campaign claims it has made more than 1.5 million voter contacts this year, more than twice the number of phone calls and three times the number of door-to-door contacts than the McCain campaign accomplished by the same point in 2008.
At press time, first lady Michelle Obama was scheduled to headline rallies in Fountain and Durango on Wednesday, followed by an event Thursday morning at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock. On the heels of Thursday’s much-anticipated debate against Republican nominee Paul Ryan, Vice President Joe Biden planned to campaign in Colorado next week, with appearances scheduled in Boulder and Greeley on Tuesday and Wednesday.
See Oct. 12, 2012 print edition for full photo coverage.