Colorado’s shift from red state to purple state has made it key to both the Obama and Romney campaigns. But how long will we continue to play presidential kingmaker?

October 2012

Here’s the bad news: The heady days are nearly over for Colorado. It won’t happen this year, and maybe not even by 2016, but the end of our swing-state run is near. Colorado is too young, too Hispanic, and too urban to stay purple. Unless there’s an entirely unexpected political cataclysm, the same forces that turned Colorado from red to purple just a few years ago will almost surely change it to a blue state in the near future.

At press time Obama and Romney were statistically tied in Colorado polls, which should be encouraging to the Romney camp. But if you drill down a little into the numbers, it becomes clear that the GOP should be scared.

America is changing. Although the white working class, once at the center of the Democratic union vote, has gone strongly Republican, the younger generation that voted overwhelmingly Democratic in 2008 is less white and less hung up about race, creed, sexual orientation, and the rest. In one August Public Policy Polling survey, Romney led 51–44 among Coloradans over the age of 45; but among those 45 and under, Obama led 56–33.

And take this look into the future: In that same PPP poll, Hispanics favored Obama by a substantial, but hardly surprising, 66­–28 margin. (According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Colorado’s Hispanic population grew 41 percent between 2000 and 2010.)

This shouldn’t come as a big surprise to any of us. The shifting landscape in Colorado was made clear in 2010 when Michael Bennet, the accidental senator—who won only a third of working-class whites in Colorado—somehow won his race against Ken Buck. David Axelrod, a key Obama adviser, has looked to the Bennet race for how the president might win here in 2012, and Bennet and his staff have been consulting with the Obama campaign.

The Democratic coalition, built of women, minorities, and college-educated professionals, isn’t entirely new. Bennet won because he had the backing of those voters, but he also had Buck, who managed to offend gays, women, and people of any gender who wear high heels. (If you think Buck had a gender-gap issue, look at Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments, a gender-chasm gift to Democrats; the Dems are so focused on women’s issues this year that Sandra Fluke—whom Rush Limbaugh called a “slut” and a “prostitute”—spoke at the DNC in Charlotte and flew to Colorado to introduce Obama as if to show that the Dems are indeed the party of birth control.)

That Buck had been nominated wasn’t a fluke. In the same year, Colorado Republicans nominated Dan Maes—who warned of the dangers of U.N.-backed bike programs, like Denver’s B-cycle—to run for governor and ended up vainly voting for Tom Tancredo, who once advocated for bombing Mecca. As I wrote at the time, Gov. John Hickenlooper turned out to be the luckiest man since Ringo.