Denver—Colorado is supposed to be Mitt Romney’s most promising major swing state. According to Politico’s Mike Allen, Republicans’ internal polls show Romney ahead in Colorado, even as they acknowledge that he has fallen behind in Florida, Ohio and Nevada. Other Republican-leaning polls, such as Rasmussen Reports, show Romney with a slight edge here, although Rasmussen’s most recent poll is two weeks old. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Obama ahead in Colorado by three points, which is consistent with Virginia and Florida, but smaller than Obama’s commanding leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa.
But Colorado presents Romney with a challenge. In order to win it he must simultaneously appeal to three constituencies: the ardent conservatives—both religious social conservatives and current and retired military personnel—in the Colorado Springs area, the more economically focused Republicans in the Denver suburbs and at least half of the state’s large independent electorate.
The Romney campaign is aware of the importance of the state’s nine electoral votes. Romney has already visited the state repeatedly, and in advance of Wednesday night’s debate in Denver his campaign has scheduled a series of events. Ann Romney will hold a rally here on Tuesday and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will hold one on Wednesday. On Monday night, Romney spoke in a warplane museum—Republicans seem to love that as a setting for campaign stops—in Denver. It was apparent from Romney’s remarks that he is carefully trying to balance the aforementioned constituencies. But, ultimately, he is betting that he already has the most ardent conservatives in his pocket and so he avoids any mention of his party’s polarizing stance on social issues.
Romney was introduced by John Elway, the legendary Denver Broncos quarterback, who just endorsed Romney. In what passes by Romney’s standards as regular guy sports talk, Romney effused, “You guys have some real teams here, no doubt about that!” He then went on to list to the Denver area’s other assets: “This is the home of the Air Force Academy, of NORAD, that helps keep our skies safe, home to great universities.” It appeared not to have dawned on Romney, nor his enthusiastically clapping audience, that the US military is a government program and that Colorado’s universities are all either public or draw heavily upon federal support for student tuition and research. But the biggest applause by far came when Romney said, “and it’s the home of Focus on the Family.” (The socially conservative advocacy organization, like NORAD and the Air Force Academy, is based in Colorado Springs, about an hour from Denver.)
Given the subtle signal his crowd sent—that these are what used to be called “family values” voters—you might have expected Romney to talk about how he plans to stifle gay marriage, appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade and free Catholic organizations from covering employees’ health insurance for contraception.