Like it or not, Colorado is now undoubtedly a battleground state in the war of national politics.
Statisticians like the New York Times’ Nate Silver have even identified Colorado as “the tipping point,” with its modest nine electoral votes proving to be crucial votes for Barack Obama to ensure victories in both 2008 and 2012.
“Colorado has gone from being a relatively safe Republican state to a very important battleground state,” said Brendan Doherty, a political science researcher at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Doherty has tracked and analyzed presidential travel patterns since the Carter administration, and said his research clearly indicates that presidents and their opponents recognize Colorado’s pivotal importance as well.
The data unsurprisingly shows competitive states with more electoral votes get the most attention.
Proximity to Washington, D.C., also seems to result in more visits, easier to make a morning appearance and still be back in the White House for afternoon briefings.
The state travel list shifts over time though. From January 2012 to Election Day, Colorado was Obama’s fourth most visited state, since he spent 15 days here, trailing only Ohio (23 days), Virginia (23 days) and Florida (18 days). Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney also spent considerable time and resources in Colorado, particularly in Jefferson County where he held three separate rallies, including a sell-out event at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
According to the National Journal, more than $48 million was spent on Colorado media spots by the Democrat and Republican candidates and their national parties between May and November 2012.
The amount of time and resources spent in the state reflects a belief that is shared by both of the nation’s major political parties: Colorado is winnable.
Before 1992, the state had voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential race, going all the way back to Lyndon Johnson.
But within the last six presidential elections the state has voted three times for the Republican candidate, and three times for the Democrat.
The swing in voting margin is pronounced: George W. Bush beat Al Gore by nine points, but just eight years later Obama won by the same margin over John McCain.
“Colorado has always been a very independent-minded state,” Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call said, pointing out the Centennial State’s tradition of often electing a Republican majority to the Legislature, alongside a moderate Democrat for governor.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said much the same. He said that in Jeffco there is almost a perfect three-way balance between registered Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
“I think we’re one of the most evenly divided states in the nation. And Jefferson County really is a microcosm for the rest of the state,” Palacio said.
Some counties are safely in the hands of one party, like El Paso County for the GOP and Boulder County for the Democrats.
“They kind of cancel each other out, so to win the state it becomes all about those swing counties, like Arapahoe County and Jefferson County,” Call said.
Demographic trends and new voter registrations tend to favor the Democratic Party, but Call said he thinks Colorado’s independent nature, and recent “overreaches” of legislative policy by Democrats at the state and federal level will cause the pendulum to swing back in the GOP’s favor in the future.
“I think Colorado will continue to be a battleground to see what party and philosophy will carry the day. I think that is healthy because it keeps politicians more accountable, and closer to the electorate,” Call said.
Palacio said he also sees the state remaining a swing state for the foreseeable future.
“I think Coloradans just vote for the higher quality candidate, and in 2012 that was definitely the Democrats,” Palacio said.
According to Doherty, battleground states clearly receive more campaign and media focus, which has economic benefits, but also the side effect of bombarding residents with an even greater number of political ads. Presidential candidates will be likely to continue visiting the state.
Doherty said that there “definitely the perception” that all those visits make the winning candidate more sensitive to the wants and needs of a state.
All those candidate visits are not without their own costs, starting with multiple road closures.
Secret Service also requires local law enforcement to assist in presidential candidate security, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in staffing costs for even the shortest of rallies. That money is never reimbursed.
“But votes matter more in a battleground state,” Doherty said. “I’d say that’s the biggest benefit.”