When a Red State Goes Blue

New residents have made Colorado more fertile ground for Democrats.

— -- The Centennial State is a major example of what's new in the American West – a political makeover. Colorado used to be a solid Republican state. In fact, it has gone for the Republican presidential nominee in every election since 1960, with the exceptions of 1964 and 1992. But this election season gives the state -- which was named after its largest river, named in turn by early Spanish explorers for its red silt — a chance to turn blue.

If you want further proof that it's a battleground state, just watch television for 10 minutes, as residents have been inundated with political ads, especially in the race's closing days.

That's in part because of a seismic shift in Colorado. Though President Bush won the state twice, now there's some Bush backlash. That combined with an influx of new residents may make it more favorable this year for Democrats. Colorado has seen tens of thousands of new residents settle annually, bringing with them high ideals and fierce independence.

Now, so many of those unaffiliated newcomers exist that their voters outnumber the rolls of either party.

"People that were unaffiliated used to default Republican. They don't do that anymore," said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

It was a cue for Democrats, who, after years of wandering the political wilderness, pounced on the opportunity presented by the swelling ranks new voters. And Ritter benefited from it.

As a former prosecutor and Catholic, the Democrat could have run his gubernatorial campaign on a law-and-order, anti-abortion platform. Instead, he went with windmills, and snatched the governor's chair two years ago in a landslide with an issue nearly everyone could agree upon.

"We've found a way to govern to the middle. We're largely centrists," Ritter said.

State Senator Joe Rice is an Army colonel and one of the Democrats' rising moderate stars, and he worries his party may get drunk on power and taste its own backlash in two years.

"Whichever party starts to think they have a monopoly on good ideas, they start losing," Rice said.

Still, the Democrats are enjoying a well organized and well funded ground game in the state, where Obama offices outnumber McCain's 4-1.

But Republicans have not bowed out entirely. Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave went to Washington as a Christian crusader six years ago, and her efforts to ban gay marriage made her a hero of the Republican right. Though her agenda today is much more nonpartisan, she still backs the McCain-Palin ticket.

"When it comes to spending, when it comes to immigration, the Republican party has been wrong," she said. "I'm hoping Colorado goes McCain-Palin."