Dreading the notion of sitting around Berkeley, filling the anxious hours until Nov. 3 by reading contradictory polls and phoning undecided voters in swing states, we decided to travel to Colorado and immerse ourselves in get-out-the-vote activities.
What we find here is a very close race for president and for an open Senate seat.
While recent public polls of the Colorado race show George Bush ahead of John Kerry from 2 to 5 percentage points, internal Democratic polls show Kerry with a lead. Both parties believe that the outcome will depend upon which side gets out their vote.
There are roughly 3 million registered voters in Colorado: 1.1 million Republicans, 940,000 Democrats, and an amazing 1 million unaffiliated voters.
The most recent Denver Post poll showed that 88 percent of Republicans favored Bush and 80 percent of Democrats preferred Kerry; the Democratic challenger was the choice of unaffiliated voters by a margin of nine percentage points. There remain a substantial number of undecided voters: seven percent of Democrats and 10 percent of the unaffiliated.
Although the large number of unaffiliated voters is unusual, the overall situation in Colorado mirrors that in all the swing states: Kerry is either ahead or within striking distance.
Polls indicate that Republican voters have made up their minds and strongly favor Bush. Kerry had not done as good a job holding the Democratic base. In all the swing states, independent or unaffiliated voters favor Kerry, but there are a large number of undecided voters.
In this sense Colorado appears to be a very typical swing state and the Democratic strategy here mirrors that in the others. The plan has been to register new voters, get as many Democrats as possible to vote by absentee ballot, convince undecided voters that Kerry is “the man,” and to get out the vote on Nov. 2.
Colorado Democrats have won the first contest in that they have recruited many more new voters than have the Republicans. Many of these are young folks. The Democratic candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by the ailing Republican, Ben Knighthorse Campbell, is Attorney General Ken Salazar. If elected, Salazar would become the first Hispanic Senator; this has encouraged the registration of many Hispanic voters.
The Democratic field offices are heavily involved in the processing of requests for absentee ballots. Statistics show that voters are much more likely to vote if they have an absentee ballot—remember that in Colorado it is quite likely that on election day there will be a blizzard or some other problem that could depress voter turnout.
Every day thousands of requests for absentee ballots are received, which must then be aggregated by county and mailed to the respective county clerk for processing. What this suggests is that if the race in Colorado ends up being to close to call, on the evening of Nov. 2, it will all come down to the counting of these absentee ballots, which could take several days.
Democratic volunteers have flocked to Colorado from states such as California and Texas, where there is no question which presidential candidate will prevail. They found lots of work to do. Those who are not processing absentee requests are calling Democrats and unaffiliated voters, making the case for John Kerry and Ken Salazar. Some volunteers have begun walking precincts.
There are few signs of support for George W. Bush in the greater Denver area, where we are working. The Democratic mobilization has succeeded in making this a city where Democrats now outnumber Republicans.
Nonetheless the race remains too close to call. A hopeful sign is that Senate candidate Salazar, who initially distanced himself from Kerry, has had a change of heart. Saturday, they appeared together at a massive rally in Pueblo, a largely Hispanic city a couple of hours south of Denver.
The Salazar campaign initially enjoyed a double-digit lead over the Republican challenger, brewer Pete Coors. Now that lead has evaporated and some polls show Coors ahead. This has had the effect of forcing Salazar to run as part of the national ticket. Interestingly, this has resulted in better coordination of the effort to get out the Hispanic vote—a vote that Salazar imprudently took for granted.
We’ll stay in Colorado until the election is decided. At the moment it looks like this may be a few days after Nov. 3.
Bob Burnett is working on a book about the Christian Right.