Obama greets Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado (right) before speaking at a fundraiser for Bennet in Denver.
President Obama holds a town hall meeting in Nevada Friday. It's part of a two-day campaign swing through the region aimed at helping Democratic Senate candidates in tough races.
The Rocky Mountain West has been friendly territory for Democrats in recent years. But 2010 is shaping up as a different story.
"The fact of the matter is that this is a tough political environment," Obama said at a fundraiser in Denver Thursday. "I'm not telling anybody anything they don't know."
As a presidential candidate, Obama won Colorado by 9 points. But his approval rating in the state now is lower than his national average.
The White House blames economic concerns. Despite the massive stimulus bill that Obama signed in Denver a year ago this week, unemployment nationwide is just shy of 10 percent.
"There are still millions of people out there who are struggling," Obama said. "So understandably people are scared. Sometimes when people are scared, politics can get rough."
Obama was speaking at a fundraiser for Michael Bennet (D-CO), a political newcomer who was appointed to the Senate a year ago, when Sen. Ken Salazar became interior secretary.
Republicans see a good chance to recapture the Colorado seat in November, along with a seat from nearby Nevada held by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"If things tend to keep going unfavorably nationally for the Democrats, they're going to lose the Rocky Mountain West," said Bob Loevy, a political scientist at Colorado College. "The mountain West has always voted with the entire country. As the country has softened in its support for President Obama, that trend is also hitting the Rocky Mountain West."
Republicans sense an opening.
"As I travel around the state meeting with Republican audiences, there are huge crowds, enthusiastic, very fired up about the year," said Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams.
"You can see from the Tea Party rallies, there's an influx of new people into the process," Wadhams added. "Many of them [are] not Republicans; they're unaffiliated voters or even Democrats. And so I think that's indicative of the shift that has occurred in the last year."
Wadhams said he never believed in the idea of a permanent realignment in the West, with formerly red states turning reliably blue. He colors this region solidly purple and thinks it's likely to stay that way.
"The fact is these states, especially Colorado, swing back and forth," Wadhams said. "Colorado is a very dynamic state. We have a lot of people who move in here constantly, and because of that, the political fortunes of both parties go up and down."
Democrats — including Obama — aren't conceding the mountain West. The president told supporters in Denver Thursday night that as hard as they worked in 2008, they've got to work even harder this year.
But Democrats seem to be setting their sights a little lower this time around.
One woman at the Bennet fundraiser held a sign with the number "51" on it — as if to say, the party that had a 60-vote lock on the Senate several weeks ago, will now feel fortunate to hold on to a bare majority.