Palin Appeals To Small-Town Colorado

Colorado used to be reliably Republican. But in recent years, Democrats have made big gains. But in small-town Colorado, voter excitement about Sarah Palin has created a new challenge for the Obama-Biden ticket.

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It's all about the key states, Colorado, one of them. For Barack Obama and John McCain, they're tied in polls there. Colorado used to go solidly Republican. Democrats doing much better recently. Still, Barack Obama has work to do if he wants to capture voters in the many of the state's rural and socially conservative areas. Here's reporter Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC, Greeley.

KIRK SIEGLER: Johnstown, Colorado, is a one-stoplight town with about 5,000 people. It sits on the plains just east of the Rocky Mountains, about an hour's drive north of Denver. Agriculture used to be the main economic engine here until the late '90s, when Johnstown started luring the drive-till-you-can-afford-it crowd from nearby pricier towns like Boulder. The town exploded, scores of cheap homes were built, and many people got in over their heads.

Mr. MEL BROWN (Resident, Johnstown, Colorado): There are more empty houses here in Johnstown now, within the city limits, than there were total houses 16 years ago.

SIEGLER: That's Mel Brown (ph). He's lived here all his life. He owns a farm-supply business. I caught up with him at 3J's Coffee Bar, Parish Avenue, Johnstown's main drag. Johnstown and Weld County have some of the highest foreclosure rates in the state. Brown says the economy is on everyone's minds here.

Mr. BROWN: The next four years are going to be mighty tough in this country from an economic standpoint, much tougher than a lot of people realize, and whoever does get in, then they've got a tough row to hoe.

SIEGLER: Brown will cast a reluctant vote for John McCain, though he says neither candidate is offering the specifics he'd like on the economy. Over at Hays Supermarket, Amy Howard (ph) agrees.

Ms. AMY HOWARD (Resident, Johnstown, Colorado): Every time there's a question asked, it kind of is the same. They go around the question. It's never a yes or no. This is what we're going to do. They always go around the question. So, we never know.

SIEGLER: Police Chief Reggie Mayes is as undecided, but he says his faith and the faith and values of the candidates will have a bearing on who gets his vote.

Chief REGINALD MAYES (Johnston Police Department, Johnston, Colorado): I mean, I expect that person to be a church-going person. I'm not - I don't care particularly which church they go to, but it's important to me that they have Christian values.

SIEGLER: That's something you hear a lot in Johnstown, even though Democrats elsewhere have had success wooing over moderate Republicans disillusioned with the GOP's social platform. Loading groceries into her car, Corey, who wouldn't give her last name, says she's going with McCain and running mate Sarah Palin because of their Christian values.

Ms. COREY (Resident, Johnstown, Colorado): I don't know, kind of a stretch here for some people, but not for me, that, you know, it doesn't really matter who is in office because God's the ultimate one in control. And my vote matters definitely, but my faith comes before that. SIEGLER: Corey, her husband, and her two kids moved here recently from Orange County, California. She says they were drawn to Johnstown's small-town way of life. So was John Peterson (ph), who retired here ten years ago. He says he'll be crossing party lines this November.

Mr. JOHN PETERSON (Resident, Johnstown, Colorado): Yeah, I am, and I'm a staunch Democrat, but there's no way I'm going to vote for him.

SIEGLER: For Barack Obama?

Mr. PETERSON: That's correct.

SIEGLER: Peterson says his vote is not guided by his faith. Rather, he says, he's worried about Obama's lack of experience. In this unscientific sampling, two things became clear. These voters didn't seem moved by either of the candidates at the top of the ticket, but the addition of Sarah Palin had many, including Peterson, leaning toward McCain. For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler.

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