Ground games rev up in presidential race
FORT COLLINS, Colo. Twenty houses in four hours. Thats what Barack Obama Colorado volunteer Maria Logsdon hits every weekend, knocking on doors in the suburbs north of Denver.In a battleground state which polls show could go either way, both Obama and John McCain supporters are kicking into overdrive their ground efforts.People are really excited, but they need that personal visit to get their support, said Logsdon, 44, an occupational therapist and Obama volunteer who visits Hispanic households each weekend because she speaks Spanish.Logsdon has worked every weekend since the summer, and this day shes signing up voters at an Obama fiesta in Fort Collins, a college town with agriculture roots that is becoming an exurb of Denver. Canvassing the crowd talking to voters, Logsdon is part of the most intense presidential campaigning Colorado has seen in living memory.Commercial breaks on TV have been jammed with political ads since August. The candidates have visited the Centennial State nearly two dozen times this year. Democrats chose Denver for their national convention. Both camps say Colorados nine electoral votes may be the hardest-fought anywhere in the nation.In one recent week, Colorado got visits from McCain, running mate Gov. Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama and a panel of celebrities including Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria stumping for Obama.Obama, copying a small-town strategy he used to great effect in Colorado during the Democratic caucuses, has opened 40 offices sprinkled across the state. McCain has 10.Both candidates are courting voters in areas where their party predecessors havent done well. Obamas offices include outposts in GOP strongholds such as Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.And McCain recently became the first Republican presidential nominee since 1912 to campaign in Pueblo, a blue-collar town south of Denver long considered unwinnable by Republicans.The outreach beyond their party bases makes sense. As in other states, independents now make up the largest chunk of Colorado voters. By September, there were 787 more unaffiliated voters than Republicans, with Democrats less than 50,000 voters behind the GOP. For the same period in 2004, the leading affiliation was Republican, with independent and Democrats trailing further behind.So McCain and Obama are courting independents and Latinos, whose population growth is credited for fueling a rise in Democratic wins here.Since 2005, voter registration among Colorado Latinos has grown at a pace triple that of Anglo voters. Latinos made up 8.4 percent of registered Colorado voters in 2004; three years later they made up 9.5 percent. Its not yet clear how many voters this year will be Hispanic, but trends indicate they may top 10 percent of all registered voters.The population change is helping Democrats. Democrats have taken control of the state Legislature and the governors office since helping re-elect President Bush with 52 percent of the vote in 2004.This time were 100 percent a swing state, said Kise, who oversees communications efforts for seven states from his Denver-area office. Theres a high amount of interest, a high amount of energy.Spanish-speaking voters have noticed the new attention.Theres such a difference this year, isnt there? noted Maria Larsen of Berthoud, who sang in the Tejano band at the Obama rally.Theres so many of us in the state of Colorado now, said Larsen, whose home is in foreclosure. Theres such a difference in the mood. Were getting out there. We dont want any more Republicans.The McCain camp was at the Chile & Frijoles Festival in Pueblo, and McCain supporters say theyre working phone banks, churches and door-to-door visits to build Hispanic support.Its neighbor-to-neighbor personal contacts that are going to win this thing, McCain spokesman Tom Kise said. He didnt have any predictions for McCains support among Hispanic voters next month, but he said, Were making some inroads there.And in a reversal of caucus strategy, in which McCain was soundly defeated here by Mitt Romney, the McCain camp is sending e-mails to McCain supporters pleading with them to hit undecided neighbors.But according to a University of Colorado political scientist, neither camps ground games are so good they have the race sewn up. Kenneth Bickers said that Democrats may be focusing too heavily on recruiting college students, who turned out in record numbers in February, for get-out-the-vote efforts.Truthfully that tends not to be very effective, Bickers said. Theyre all chirpy and happy and are telling you what to do. But they dont know how much youre paying in taxes, how much youre paying to put your kids through school.And Republicans, he said, appear to have less of a neighbor-to-neighbor effort than they did in 2004, when George W. Bush carried Colorado with 52 percent of the vote.The Republican ground game doesnt appear to be as organized as it was. Four years ago, it was impressive.Back in Fort Collins, where Hispanic Obama volunteers sold Mexican food and cheered for down-ticket Democrats talking up Obama, rally attendees said its an easy task to get their neighbors interested in voting. In Colorado this year, they say, theres interest like theyve never seen in the presidential contest.Part of it was holding the convention here. Part of its the issues, said Gloria Balderrama of Fort Collins, 58, a retired office manager who held an Obamanos! sign at the rally.People just want to come out and vote, no matter who its for.
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