In 2008, Barack Obama became only the second Democratic presidential candidate in 40 years to win Colorado, thanks in large part to strong support from the state’s Hispanic voters, who turned out in droves.
Sixty-one percent of Hispanics chose Obama over Republican Sen. John McCain, while just 50 percent of whites voted the same, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Obama’s campaign team says Hispanic voters will be even more essential to winning the Rocky Mountain state in 2012, a point underscored by the president’s second visit here in less than a month and an elaborate effort to engage Hispanics more than a year before they can hit the polls.
Obama headlines a rally at the University of Colorado-Denver later today, when he will stump for his jobs plan and steps meant to make college more accessible to younger Americans eager to build their careers.
But while Colorado’s unemployment rate stands at 8.3 percent, Obama’s pitch will be not only about the future but what he believes his economic policies have accomplished over the past three years, particularly for key constituencies like Hispanics.
Over the past few weeks as Obama has traveled the country to sell his jobs bill, the White House and Obama Campaign have distributed fact sheets and talking points for Hispanic audiences, insisting the president’s economic policies have kept 1.9 million Latinos out of poverty, provided 150,000 additional Hispanic students with access to college, and made strides toward comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act.
“The choice for Hispanic Americans is between the President … and a Republican field whose leading candidates oppose the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for immigrants and would slash funding for education, Medicare, and Social Security,” said Gabriela Domenzain, a spokeswoman for the campaign.
Obama’s army of campaign organizers have also taken that message door to door, in Colorado focusing outreach on Latino neighborhoods in North and West Denver, Greeley, Commerce City, the Sheridan corridor, and parts of Aurora and Fort Collins, aides say. Volunteers are registering voters, enlisting new volunteers and holding listening sessions with members of the community.
Meanwhile, Democrats are broadcasting a defense of Obama in Spanish on radio and TV, reminding voters in ads that the nation’s economic doldrums began under President Bush and that Obama deserves credit for turning things around.
“Congress Republicans didn’t lift a finger then,” says the Spanish-speaking narrator in a new DNC TV ad airing in the Denver in conjunction with Obama’s visit. “And today they’re blocking the President’s job plan that will put Colorado to work.”
Republicans say the president’s record on the economy speaks for itself and may well compel Hispanics, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc, to consider voting for their side.
Colorado ranks tenth in the nation for home foreclosures, according to RealtyTrac, and unemployment there, particularly among Hispanics, remains well above the national average. Obama’s job approval rating in Colorado has sagged below 50 percent for each the past two years, according to Gallup, with similar trends in Obama approval seen among Hispanics nationwide.
“Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it, Coloradans are worse off now than they were when President Obama took office and no amount of campaign cash or empty rhetoric will put our state back to work,” said Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call.
Still, there are signs Colorado residents and Hispanics aren’t ready to rule Obama out.
Hispanic community advocates say the sharp rhetoric coming from Republican presidential candidates on the issue of immigration enforcement will neutralize any disillusionment Hispanic voters may feel with Obama and galvanize their support for him in 2012.
“You have Latino immigrants now feeling unwelcome in this country, a state of siege in immigrant communities, a sense that the knock on the door or the slur or the firing or getting picked up while getting your kids at school,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “That stuff haunts immigrants who are here legally and not every single day. And many live in mixed status families.”
Democrats also say the 2010 election of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and re-election of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett sent a strong signal of Colorado voters’ allegiances, in spite of the economy.
“Colorado is a tough state, it’s a purple state,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, acknowledging the difficulties Obama faces in his home state. ”But I think the president will win … I know the president and his team and they know how to run campaigns.”