Rocky Mountain low signals wider doom for McCain

Mon, Oct 27, 2008, 00:00

Foreclosures, economic woes and Hillary Clinton are helping Obama take on a Republican bastion, writes Mark Hennessy

STANDING BEFORE several thousand of her supporters outside the University of Colorado Hospital on the outskirts of Denver, Senator Hillary Clinton urged that they back the man who ended her chance of returning to the White House, Barack Obama.

And they were very much her people. To cheers, she said: "I very much want to thank everybody who supported me, and ask you to work as hard for Barack Obama as you did for me. Because he is going to need our help."

Taking care to emphasise her own contribution of 65 to 70 appearances for the Obama campaign, which has been criticised as too little in some behind-the-scenes Democrat bickering, Clinton said: "This election is too important for us to stand on the sidelines of history."

Up until recent years, Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states were solidly Republican. Bill Clinton won in 1992, partly because the billionaire businessman, Ross Perot ran. He lost here four years later because of another vote-split, small though it was, caused by Ralph Nader.

Before her husband, just two Democrats had won the Centennial State - so-called because it achieved statehood on the USA's 100th anniversary - Harry Truman in his 1948 battle and Lyndon B Johnson in 1964.

This time, the state is drifting solidly towards the Democrats. On Saturday, a poll in the Rocky Mountain News showed that Obama is now 12 points ahead, compared with being 3 points behind in August.

A succession of other polls put the margin much closer between the two, but the trend is the same: Obama is making ground in a state affected by foreclosures and economic woes - even if Colorado has been better insulated than most.

"Obama has the rising tide in the sense that he has been able to get on the surfboard of the economy, plus /voter registration," said Rick Ridder, a Democrat working with Denver's RPI Strategies Research.

"We were going to have a very close election here in Colorado four to six weeks ago. You can literally track the Obama level of support to the SP 500 value as it dropped," he declared.

The loss of Colorado would be disastrous for John McCain's chances by itself, but also because it would be a clear signal that even traditional bastions are no longer safe from the Obama onslaught.

The Republicans' difficulties today in Colorado mirror those elsewhere: the party is paying a price locally for insisting on picking ever more right-wing candidates at a time when the political pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction.

"Nixon came up with the strategy that people would vote for you if they could identify with you. Ronald Reagan perfected it. They separated themselves from issues and concentrated on values. We are seeing the end of that now," said local Democrat and lawyer, Jim Lyons.

Lyons served as Bill Clinton's Northern Ireland economic adviser for four years and is a partner in a law firm alongside former ambassador to Ireland, ex-Wyoming governor, Mike Sullivan. Lyons is known and prized for his bluntness.

John McCain, in his view, would never have got into the US Naval Academy except for his admiral father's influence. His running mate, Sarah Palin, attended five third-rate colleges before she picked up a journalism degree, said Lyons.

"She has had no experience outside of Alaska: a state where all you have to do as governor is figure out how much money you are going to give people at the end of the year from oil revenues. Alaska is a giant Exxon gas station, for God's sake." He is equally blunt in his assessment of America's difficulties: "We have three wars under way , an economy in free-fall. We are in serious trouble. Those difficulties are going to be with us for a long time," he told The Irish Times.

The economic difficulties highlighted by Lyons find a ready echo amongst many in the state: where 83 per cent of those questioned for the Rocky Mountain News poll said the US is "on the wrong track".

Colorado, which has become a centre for high-tech industries over the last two decades, now has five million residents - up nearly one million since 2000 - and many of these have come from California and other western states, changing the political demographics on their arrival. In addition, the state's Hispanic population is surging ahead: up by 41 per cent in just five of the counties in and around Denver. The Obama campaign has particularly targeted them.

Voting is already happening. Jade Jones, the supervisor of the polling station operating out of the United Methodist Christ Church on Colorado Boulevard, opened for business 12 hours a day a week ago, and will remain open until November 4th voting is finished.

"We have had 600 people a day coming in. Many were left waiting a long time four years ago because there was something wrong with the computers and they don't want to take the chance this time. People are really particular about wanting to vote early," she told The Irish Times.

Finishing her stump speech, before the doctors and nurses went back to their rounds, Hillary Clinton put the point simply.

"You've had to wait eight years for this. It took a Democrat president to clean up after the first President Bush. And it will take another Democrat president to clean up after the second President Bush.

"But I have no doubt but that America will rise again, and rise from the ashes of the Bushes if we have the leadership that Barack Obama will provide," she said. Privately, though, she must wonder how close she came to the prize.