Colorado in the spotlight ahead of presidential debate


Changing demographics in the battleground state helped Obama win there in 2008

“FOR THE last several weeks and months, the president has dramatically distorted my own views,” Republican candidate Mitt Romney told the Denver Post in an interview published yesterday.

“I look forward to the debate so people will understand what I actually believe,” Romney added, referring to the stand-off between him and US president Barack Obama at the University of Denver tonight.

If Americans do not know what Romney believes, it may be because his vague policy statements have often varied.

“What I would like to see is detail,” Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, said at a round-table discussion that was livestreamed from the University of Denver yesterday.

“I want to hear more than just talking points and one-liners.”

Colorado was long considered a red, Republican state. But Obama defeated John McCain there by nine percentage points in 2008, and Obama leads Romney, at 48.8 per cent compared to 45.7 per cent, in the latest Real Clear Politics poll average for Colorado. If he wins again, Obama will be the first Democrat to take the state in consecutive elections since Franklin D Roosevelt in 1936.

Seth Masket, a professor of political science, said Colorado shifted from red to purple “largely due to migration from further west. There’s been a large influx of Latino voters, which has made the state more competitive as it has grown.”

Latinos accounted for 12 to 13 per cent of Colorado’s voters in the last election, when 68 per cent of them voted for Obama. “It will be the same this time,” predicted Lisa Martinez, a professor of sociology. “Latinos will be the deciding factor, and immigration is key.”

Romney made a tardy gesture towards Hispanics when he told the Denver Post he would not deport young people who receive temporary work permits under an executive order issued by Obama in June. “The people who have received the special visa, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I’m not going to take something that they’ve purchased,” he said, adding that “before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I’ve proposed”.

But Romney did not offer specifics as to what his plan would entail.

In 2008, Obama said immigration reform was a top priority. Many Latinos “were disenchanted” when he failed to deliver, Martinez said. But the president’s initiative in June changed that. “It’s the thing people will remember when they go to vote. They’ll also remember that Romney proposed self-deportation.”

Colorado’s proposition 64 would legalise marijuana. The state is already one of 17 that have legalised the drug for medicinal purposes. When California voted on a similar proposal in 2010, attorney general Eric Holder opposed it. “But California is a clearly Democratic state,” Masket said. “The Obama administration will be more careful about coming in here with a heavy hand.”

Romney seemed to imply tolerance of medical marijuana when he told the Denver Post: “I oppose marijuana being used for recreational purposes and I believe the federal law should prohibit the recreational use of marijuana.”

His campaign quickly issued a statement saying Romney “has a long record of opposing the use of marijuana for any reason”.

According to the New York Times, Romney has confronted at least one person smoking marijuana in front of his beachfront home in California.

Colorado mirrors the national 8.2 per cent unemployment rate, but Denver leads the nation in construction and real estate. It has the fifth-busiest airport in the US, and its downtown is thriving.

“The economy is not in recovery,” Romney told a rally there. “We’re not seeing a real recovery. The president’s policies have not worked.”

In a sign of economic recovery yesterday, General Motors, Chrysler and Ford reported strong sales for the month of September, with Chrysler marking its best September in five years; GM its best in four.

Victims of the shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 58 in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, in July are broadcasting television advertisements appealing to the candidates to address gun violence in tonight’s debate.

“Violent crime is down by three-quarters in US cities,” said Sam Kamin, a professor of law. “Gun control does not seem to be an issue.”

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