The Swing State


Originally published in The Metropolitan. Oct. 16, 2008

The 2008 presidential election will no doubt be remembered as the race in which anything that could happen, did.

The Democrats nominated a black man. The Republicans nominated a man who would be the oldest president, if elected. Then there’s Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. And along the way Sen. Hillary Clinton and Hurricane Gustav caused problems for Barack Obama and John McCain, respectively.

Now, with less than 20 days until Election Day, only one thing may remain certain: Colorado is a swing state.

But how the state’s nine electoral votes swing may not end up mattering. Obama is leading — by some accounts with double digits — in polls across the nation.


Leading up to the economic crisis, the electoral votes — the nation’s indirect way of electing a president — were being divvied up to respective red and blue states. About nine states remained in the undecided column. The most important state, according to both parties and independent sources, was Colorado.

A candidate must secure 270 electoral votes to be elected. Many speculated that on Nov. 4, Obama would garner 264 votes and McCain would earn 265, making the remaining nine votes from Colorado the deciding factor.

Colorado’s Democratic Party spokesman Matt Farrauto said that since the beginning of the campaign, the Square State was “the line of scrimmage.” And that hasn’t changed.

“We’re not going to stop fighting in JeffCo until all the votes are counted,” he said. Jefferson County is a highly contested “swing county,” where there are large numbers of independent voters.

Colorado’s largest bloc of voters are Independents. Republicans have the second-largest bloc, followed by registered Democrats. In recent history, Colorado’s Independents have voted for Democrats. They elected more Democrats to Congress; both houses of Colorado’s legislature are dominated by Democrats and the state’s governor, elected in 2006, belongs to the same party. This shift, noticed by the Democratic National Committee, helped secure the party’s convention in Denver and gave Colorado the bittersweet title of “swing state.”

As many as one million new Colorado voters will head to the booths in November, an increase that has been echoed throughout the country. This nationwide boost in registered voters largely contributed to Obama’s campaign.

“If Tim Russert were here his white board would say ‘Colorado! Colorado! Colorado!’” Jennifer Duffy of The Cook Political Report, an independent newsletter that analyzes national elections, said


It was the “October Surprise” that came in September. With polls in late August showing the two candidates tied, the economy suddenly became the big issue of the election.

Lehman Brothers, one of the nation’s largest banks, filed for bankruptcy. The White House bailed out AIG, the nation’s largest insurance company. Following the banking turmoil, the stock market crashed in early

October, and a controversial bailout plan was created to save the economy.

Obama has since gained in the polls. By a large margin, voters polled across the country say they trust Obama more to handle the economic crisis.

Voters in Florida polled as recently as Oct. 11 are now undecided on who should be the next president. What once was a secure red state for McCain has now been labeled a toss-up. So has Ohio, so has West Virginia.

“We’re seeing John McCain in places where he shouldn’t be,” Duffy said. “He’s in Virginia reaffirming his base. I’m a bit amazed. Republicans know it’s almost impossible for them to win the White House without Florida.”

Some predict this is the beginning of the end for McCain.

“It’s gonna be an Obama sweep,” said Electoral College expert Walter Burns.

The National Journal on Oct. 11 projected Obama could win the election with more than 300 electoral votes.


With states such as Florida and Ohio now in play, the candidates — who spent quite a bit of time in Colorado in mid-September and October — have been noticeably absent from the Rocky Mountain region.

“The candidates go where the votes are,” Burns said. If Colorado only had five electoral votes, it wouldn’t be a significant state at this point. But, because the state has almost double that, it’s possible for Colorado to play a role in winning the election for either Obama or McCain,” he said.

Metro history professor Dolph Grundman said Colorado has a lot of attention yet to come.

Grundman said racism could still be a factor across the nation and Obama, specifically, needs every state he can win. Grundman is supporting Obama.

In his opinion, Colorado isn’t much different than the rest of the nation, and he’d guess about 2 percent — a number often used nationally — of voters will not vote for Obama because he’s black.

“If you look at places like New Hampshire, the Midwest, I think the effect will be the same,” he said.

Grundman said he expects both candidates to be back in Colorado and New Mexico. “That’s 14 electoral votes,” he said. “That’s a good backup plan (as opposed to one large state).”

The democratic spokesman echoed Grundman. He said there are still various scenarios where Colorado could be the state to decide the next president.

“(We’re not) letting up,” he said. “Worst case scenario? Florida and Ohio vote for Obama and it’s all finished before the polls close in Colorado.”

John McCain’s Colorado spokesman painted a different picture. He said the race is far from over and Obama would not win by a landslide — if at all.

“We’re going to remind Colorado voters that Barack Obama has associated with terrorists,” Tom Kise said, referring to Obama’s acquaintance William Ayers, founder of the Weatherman Underground group suspected of acts of domestic terrorism in the turbulent ’60s. “We’re going to remind them that he hasn’t answered for that. We’re going to remind the voters that Barack Obama is going to raise their taxes and he’s promoting the worst economic platform since Herbert Hoover.”

Independent fact checkers have agreed: Obama’s tax reform will help more people than McCain’s.

Kise said Florida is a battleground state and always has been, despite the national media and polls moving its electoral votes into the toss-up column just last week.

“The national media is saying this race is over,” Kise said. “They’ve forgotten it’s the people of Colorado who are voting that are going to decide this election, not the talking heads.”

Duffy agrees it’s too early to hand Obama the keys to the White House.

“Look, this is the strangest election any of us have ever seen,” she said. “When we ask what else could happen, it does.”