Colorado’s political clout continues to impress the national media. In the lead article on NBC’s Nightly News website yesterday, NBC’s Anchor-to-Be Brian Williams calls us “The Wild West ” of politics. Williams focuses on the Senate Race between Pete Coors and Ken Salazar, the most expensive in Colorado history. Williams posits that Colorado’s growth–our population has increased by a third in the last decade– is responsible for the surge in our political clout.

A far more in-depth analysis of Colorado’s political landscape appears in today’s Wall Street Journal where David Rogers examines Colorado’s “swing potential” in house and senate races. (unfortunately, the article is only available to online subscribers.) Here are a few choice quotes:

President Bush is ahead in polls here, but by small enough margins that he returned again yesterday for a rally in Greeley. Sen. John Kerry drew thousands in Pueblo on Saturday, and Democrats hope for a record turnout by Hispanic voters, drawn by a remarkable pairing of fifth-generation Mexican-American brothers who are running for Congress as Democrats.

Those closely fought races for an open Senate seat and an open House seat — both now held by Republicans — offer the greatest human drama. In the Senate race, Attorney General Ken Salazar appears to hold a narrow lead over beer magnate Pete Coors, a Republican. The outcome will help determine control of the chamber, where Republicans can ill afford to lose any of their 51 seats.

Rogers devotes a good portion of the article to the House race between farmer John Salazar and Republican Greg Walcher. He also discusses the impact of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s endorsement last week of Democrat Ken Salazar for Senate. In the end, Rogers says, in these races and in the Presidential contest, it will all come down to getting out the vote. The Democrats are counting on a large Hispanic turnout.

Rogers says that ideology is less of a factor for Colorado voters.

Republicans agree they have dominated Colorado in recent years by making Democrats look risky. The big question now is whether today’s real-life problems of Iraq, rising health-care costs, dwindling water supplies and a state fiscal crisis are frightening enough that voters may be willing to take a chance on the party out of power.

All that makes Colorado a potential swing state at every level in next week’s election. “People have forgotten that this is not a partisan state. It is not an ideological state,” says Bill Armstrong, a former two-term Republican senator from Colorado. “So while people say Republicans are losing their grip, the truth is they never had a grip.”

They may never have “had a grip” but there are 178.000 more Republicans than Democrats on the registered voter lists. Republicans have done a good job in the past at turning out their voters. On the other hand, Rogers says, Governor Owen’s political clout has decreased and many Colorado Republicans think Bush and Coors’ stand on social and fiscal issues are too far to the right:

…some Republicans complain that their party may have pushed to the limits its antitax and socially conservative ideology. The second especially rubs against a Western libertarian streak on issues such as gay rights and stem-cell research.

“I’m a 1964 Goldwater Republican and I’m not happy where the neo-Republicans are taking us,” says Mark Larson, a state legislator from Cortez. In fact, the party’s leader, Gov. Bill Owens, is no longer the partisan powerhouse he once was and has been hurt by his well-publicized separation from his wife. The brightest new political star may be Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a Democratic businessman who cultivates a brand of nonpartisan politics and a friendship with the Republican governor.

Rogers and Williams are smart not to pigeonhole Colorado voters or dwell on poll numbers and past recorded votes. We are an exceptionally independent-minded, diverse group of voters and while we may no longer be the “hee-haw” group Williams makes us out to be, nothing except our own consciences are going to dictate how we vote.