USA TODAY, November 7, 2012
By Yamiche Alcindor
DENVER — When Gina Hartley cast her ballot to re-elect President Obama her personal health insurance and the coffee shop she owns came to mind.
A year and a half ago, she was paying $400 more for health insurance because her pre-existing condition meant as a small business owner she paid $500 for insurance coverage and another $200 for medications each month.
Then came Obamacare.
“I’m in a better position now than I was four years ago,” she said. “If I have to go back to the price I was paying, I wouldn’t be able to keep my shop open.”
Voters like her, who pointed to Obama’s health-care policies, social stances and government spending to kick start the economy are why the president won this swing state Tuesday and its nine electoral votes.
But it was close until the end. Obama and Republican Mitt Romney were neck and neck for weeks.
Across small towns, city centers and local bars, Obama supporters were as easy to come by as Romney supporters throughout Election Day.
Soon after Obama’s victory was announced. a mass exodus started at a watch party at Mile High Stadium in Denver hosted by the GOP of Colorado.
“I’m completely depressed,” said B.J. Jones of Denver, who was among those leaving the event. “I’ve been under-employed for two years. Obama has been terrible for business.”
Those casting their ballots in several swing counties — including Jefferson, Arapahoe and Larimer — had to wait in long lines as some poll workers double-checked voters’ registrations and transitioned from paper ballots to electronic systems.
Many voters said they picked their candidate based on who they thought would have a better plan for the economy, renewable energy, health care, foreign policy, and immigration. Differences in race as well as the fact that city dwellers tend to be more liberal and rural dwellers more conservative also played into how Colorado went, experts said.
Across town at the Jefferson County Courthouse, Laura Blackburn said she supported Obama based on social issues. The 30-year-old clothing store manager said she has several gay friends and wants a president who would allow them to get married, she said.
“I’m scared of Romney because I think he’s a homophobic woman hater,” she said.
In Byers, Colo., a small town of about 1,160 where many people make their living farming, the wait to vote at the American Legion Post 160 in Arapahoe was 45 minutes to an hour.
Krista Johnson, 41, with her daughter, Grace, 5, waited about an hour to vote while workers figured out the new system. She didn’t mind and said once she got to casting her ballot for Romney everything went smoothly.
This election is all about the economic future of the country, said Johnson, an attorney from Strasburg.
“The president’s plan for continued spending is unsustainable,” she said. “I think Mitt Romney’s jobs plan has real numbers and a real thoughtfulness behind it.”
The Centennial State, home to 5.1 million people, used to be reliably red in presidential races. But in 2008, Obama took the state. Before that, the last time voters here went for a Democrat was in 1992, when Colorado went to Bill Clinton. That was regarded as an anomaly.
Changes in the population — including the addition of large numbers of Hispanics and transplants from other states, especially California — have led to a political transformation, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
As of this year, 32% of Colorado’s voters were white white-collar Americans, 45% were white blue-collar Americans, and 22% were minority voters, Frey said.
“The fact that there is an increase in the minority population and there’s no decrease in the graduate population would, from a demographic standpoint, favor Obama,” Frey said.
Patrick Murphy, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco, said Colorado is a microcosm of the United States.
“Colorado has evangelical Christians who are strong on social issues, social liberals and fiscal conservatives,” Murphy said. “It is a swing state in the truest sense of the word.”
Months before the election, supporters of both Obama and Romney made pushes get out the vote. Volunteers for each candidate as well as non-partisan organizations knocked on doors, passed out flyers and took people to the polls.
In West Denver at an Obama campaign office, the results of hard work lay scattered about a mid-size room: cold mushroom and sausage pizza, highlighted maps of the Denver’s voting districts, and dozens of “Latinos for Obama” flyers.
Antonio Esquibel, 71, turned the garage in his West Denver home into a “staging area” Tuesday where he and others met before knocking on dozens of doors, and reminding voters of their polling places.
“We’re going to visit each home where a person hasn’t voted,” said Esquibel, a retired college professor who said he supported Obama because of his policies on immigration and government programs such as medicare and social security. “A lot of people who are characterized as the “47%” have worked and paid into social security.”
He added that Obama’s support of the Federal Pell Grant Program will help his three grand-daughters go to college and his stance on immigration will help many — including Denver’s growing Mexican-American community — become successful citizens.
Across town in Lakewood, Romney’s Colorado headquarters buzzed throughout Election Day. The city sits in Jefferson County, one of several swing counties targeted by both campaigns.
Dozens of Romney volunteers made calls to people who had yet to vote. Posters like “Ann for First Lady,” “Commit to Mitt” and “Every Town Counts,” looked down on peanut butter cookies, bacon pizza, and red, white and blue cupcakes.
Chase Harrington traveled from his home in Dallas to volunteer for the Romney Campaign in Colorado. “I wanted to be part of a swing state where I knew I was needed,” said Harrington, 29, who added that he paid for the trip himself.
For him, this race was about the economy and foreign policy. In both areas, Romney would do a better job because of his success in turning profits at businesses like Bain Capital and because of his demonstrated interest in the Middle East — including his trip to Israel during the campaign, Harrington said.
Both Obama and Romney spent time in the last week of the election trying to sway voters in Colorado.
President Obama spoke before 20,000 supporters at a rally Sunday in Aurora in his final stop in Colorado before Election Day. He mentioned the devastation from Superstorm Sandy and said Aurora knows about tragedy after this summer’s shooting at a theater left 12 people dead and 58 injured. Obama accused Romney of trying to hide his positions and pretending to be the candidate of change.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan appeared with his family at a rally Monday at Johnson’s Corner in northern Colorado. He urged voters to get the country “back on track” by electing his team. Romney capped off his Colorado campaign with a rally in Englewood Saturday night.
Voters in Colorado also passed Amendment 64 which legalized the use and sale of up to an ounce of marijuana for anyone over the age of 21.
Outside Columbine Library, just steps from the high school, Dennis Riley, 41, said he was most concerned with Amendment 64 and called the marijuana the “most valuable plant known to mankind.”
“I’m for anything that promotes the marijuana industry,” Riley said. “I’d like to see Colorado and California lead the way.”
Contributing: KUSA, Associated Press