NPR logo Colorado Senate Race: Both Candidates Seek Centrist Voters

Election 2010

Colorado Senate Race: Both Candidates Seek Centrist Voters

Colorado Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck and wife Perry.  Kristen Wyatt/AP Photo hide caption

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Kristen Wyatt/AP Photo

As the story goes, Colorado is where the line "purple mountains majesty" came to the mind of Katharine Lee Bates, the poet behind "America the Beautiful" as she looked out from Pike's Peak.

And purple seems appropriate since the state has in recent elections come to be seen as a swing state, though for a time it was thought to be turning increasingly Democratic blue.

The close current contest for the U.S. Senate seat, however, suggests the state is still is capable of swinging red or blue, depending on the mood of voters.

Sen. Michael Bennet, the incumbent and Colorado's Democratic candidate for Senate.  Ed Andrieski/AP Photo hide caption

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Ed Andrieski/AP Photo

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows Republican Ken Buck, who has the support of the Tea Party, with a five percentage point lead among likely voters, 49 percent to 44 percent, over Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet.

Bennett was appointed to fill the vacancy created when President Obama named Ken Salazar to his cabinet.

Among registered voters, Bennet had a three percentage point lead, 47 percent to 44 percent.

NPR reporters took a look at the Colorado Senate race and found that both Bennet and Buck were attempting to win voters in the political center, moderates who identify with either party or as independents.

Don Gonyea provided an example of how the Republican Buck has moderated his view to win centrist voters:

The Denver Post reported that early on in the race, Buck responded to an anti-abortion group's questionnaire by saying he would not vote to confirm any federal nominee to any government job if that nominee is, as the survey put it, pro-abortion.

Now Buck says he would have no litmus test regarding abortion.

It's all about courting the independent voter like Terry Brueger, who lives in a Denver suburb.

"I'm independent because I don't want to be prejudiced against either party," Brueger says.

She says the economy is a huge issue but so are education and abortion.

"I still think he's a little bit outdated for the 21st century," Brueger says.

More encouraging for Buck is Jim Noone, who owns a small business in Denver that employs a dozen people. Noone is a moderate Republican, who describes himself as pro-choice on abortion. So on that issue he's at odds with Buck but he has no problem voting for him.

"He will still do what's right on the issues that are most important to me because I think a lot of mistakes have been made with the economy," Noone adds.

Meanwhile, Jeff Brady reported on Bennet's effort to appeal to the same voters:

"I have voted more with the other party than any member of the Colorado delegation, Republican or Democrat," bragged Bennet at a debate in Colorado Springs on Friday.

Look at the numbers in Colorado and you'll see why Bennet has changed his message: Polls show the race is tight and his Republican opponent — Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck — may actually be slightly ahead. This is surprising because Buck is widely seen as more conservative than most Coloradans, especially on issues like abortion and immigration.

Bennet is the type of middle-of-the-road Democrat who's done well in Colorado in recent years.

"The more moderate candidate should — all things being equal — be doing somewhat better than the more extreme candidate,” says Seth Masket, assistant professor of political science at the University of Denver. "In this year, though, all things are not equal. There's a very strong national tide against the Democrats right now and for the Republicans."