Obama Campaign Faces Uphill Battle In Colorado

President Obama won Colorado in the 2008 election, and Democrats hoped it was a sign that the Rocky Mountain West was turning from red to blue. But analysts say he faces a tougher contest there for re-election next year.

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President Obama is working to reengage Latino voters who supported him in 2008. This morning, he's hosting an online roundtable on issues important to those voters. Yesterday, he chose a largely Latino high school in Denver as the setting to deliver another message on his jobs bill.

BARACK OBAMA: It's time to build an economy that honors the values of hard work and responsibility. It's time to build an economy that lasts. And Denver, that starts now. And I need your help to make it happen.

INSKEEP: Colorado is a state that the president won in 2008. Analysts say he faces a tougher contest there for re-election next year. From Denver, NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The Obama campaign knows it has an uphill battle in this Rocky Mountain bellwether. Campaign foot soldiers are already hard at work, 14 months before the election.

ESTELLE CARSON: I've been volunteering with Organizing for America now a little over a year.

HORSLEY: Estelle Carson sits at a folding table outside the Action Center, a non-profit social service agency just west of Denver. Most people come here for help with their rent or their gas bill, or to pick up donated school clothes for their children. Carson comes to sign up voters.

CARSON: You should be receiving something from the Secretary of State within three weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Very good. Thank you.

CARSON: Thank you for registering.

HORSLEY: As she works, needy clients are passing by, pushing carts loaded with donated food. Unemployment in Colorado is 8.5 percent and the people who run the Action Center say they've never seen the economy this bad this long. Some of the families who used to donate food and clothing are now looking for help themselves.

The lingering downturn has tarnished Mr. Obama's standing here, especially with younger voters, who have an extra hard time finding work. Carson hears their discontent when signing up voters on college campuses.

CARSON: I'm seeing young people registering unaffiliated or Republican because they think he hasn't been effectual enough. We have to shout loud and proud what has been done, all the good things.

HORSLEY: Campaign volunteers have also been contacting people who voted for Mr. Obama in the past to test their support. Gail Haley says she hasn't talked to anyone who's turned against the president, but many admit their expectations have been tempered in the last three years.

GAIL HALEY: We thought he had a magic wand and was going to walk on water. And we found out, maybe next time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: Estelle Carson says she tries to remind voters Mr. Obama is just one man, and he needs help from Congress to move his agenda forward. The president himself sounded almost wistful yesterday as he called once again for a deeply divided Washington to pass his American Jobs Act.

OBAMA: There's so much that we could accomplish together if Washington can finally start acting on behalf of the people.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

HORSLEY: To win re-election, Mr. Obama needs to win states like Colorado next year. This is a true battleground, where Republicans won a majority of House seats last year, but moderate Democrats retained a Senate seat and the governor's office.

Rocky Mountain political analyst Floyd Ciruli expects a hard-fought contest in which Mr. Obama will need to turn out both young and Latino voters to prevail. Here again, the economy may be working against him.

FLOYD CIRULI: When it comes to people in the Hispanic community, working class, blue collar, man, it's jobs. And if you're producing jobs, you're interested in backing that person. And if they're not, then you're maybe not even motivated to turn out.

HORSLEY: In the west Denver neighborhood where Mr. Obama spoke yesterday, many of the billboards are in Spanish. An aging strip mall nearby houses a dollar store, a furniture rental center and a supermarket that's giving way to a tortilla factory.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HORSLEY: Mariana Barassa owns a Botanica shop in the mall, where she sells herbal remedies and gives massages. She likes the president's proposal to extend tax breaks to workers and small businesses.

MARIANA BARASSA: I appreciate that. So that's good. Even if I don't get anything, a lot of people is going to get something.

HORSLEY: Odds of the tax cuts passing are anything but certain. But Barassa seems to give Mr. Obama credit for simply making the effort.

BARASSA: So I know if he doesn't do much it's because they don't allow him to do it. Republicans doesn't help as much, because they're mad because they're paying taxes now to make the economy better.

HORSLEY: That's a message the president will be pushing, here and in other battleground states, over the next 14 months.

Scott Horsley, NPR news, Denver.

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