WASHINGTON — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is likely to gain ground among Colorado’s undecided and wavering voters after his performance in the first presidential debate Wednesday night, political observers said.
“I would not be surprised by a point or two in Romney’s favor after this,” Seth Masket, an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver, said in an interview.
“I think swing voters (now) have a very compelling reason to vote for Romney,” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) said in an interview.
Many of Colorado’s swing voters have cast their ballots in recent congressional elections for Democrats who attended the debate Wednesday at the University of Denver.
Sen. Michael Bennet, who sat to the right of First Lady Michelle Obama at the opening of the debate, held on to his seat two years ago by amassing strong support from female, minority, and socially liberal voters.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Golden, who sat next to Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, has won his three congressional races by appealing not only to those same constituencies in Jefferson County but also to more traditional working-class and union Democrats in Adams County.
Some Coloradans remain on the sidelines this year. As a recent Quinnipiac University poll and a Marist College poll show, five percent of Colorado’s voters have not declared a preference in the presidential contest.
Among Coloradans who expressed a preference in mid-September, President Obama held a slight edge over Romney. He was ahead 48 to 47 in the Quinnipiac poll and 50 to 45 in the Marist poll. RealClearPolitics’ average of poll finds that Obama leads Romney 48.8 to 45.7 in the state.
Romney also trails three points nationally, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
But the size of the gap suggests Romney is doing better in the Centennial State than the previous GOP presidential nominee. Arizona Sen. John McCain lost by almost seven percentage points nationally and lost by nine points in Colorado. In other words, Romney appears to be performing the same in Colorado as he is nationally while McCain performed two points worse.
In addition, Republicans maintain a voter-identification advantage over Democrats in the Centennial State.
According to the Colorado Secretary of State, the GOP has 64,399 more registered voters on its side than Democrats on theirs. Republicans have 871,275 registered voters, while Democrats have 806,876; an additional 798,422 voters in Colorado are unaffiliated with any party. Although the Republicans’ lead has dwindled in the last ten years, it represents a political advantage, as a voter’s partisan affiliation is the best indicator of his or her vote.
After the Republicans’ presidential nominee appeared on stage with President Obama Wednesday night, he wasted little time seeking to appeal to Colorado’s undecided and wavering voters. Romney’s opening statement included an story about a hard-luck Coloradan who had approached his wife Tuesday.
“Ann yesterday was at a rally in Denver, and a woman came up to her with a baby in her arms and said, ‘Ann, my husband has had four jobs in three years, part-time jobs. He’s lost his most recent job, and we’ve now just lost our home. Can you help us?,” the former Massachusetts governor told the audience.
As recently as August, Obama held a 16-point advantage over Romney when voters were asked by Gallup which candidate “cares about the needs of people like you.” Although no post-debate polls asked the public’s attitude about the candidates’ empathy, a CNN poll found that Romney outperformed Obama 46 to 45 among those asked which candidate was more likable.
Romney also sought to appeal to the energy sector, which has a sizable presence in Colorado. “On government land, your administration has cut the number of permits and licenses in half. If I’m president, I’ll double them, and also get the — the oil from offshore and Alaska,” he told Obama. “And, by the way, I like coal. I’m going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal. People in the coal industry feel like it’s getting crushed by your policies. I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs.”
For Rep. Gardner, Romney’s performance hit the nail on the economic head. “I think swing voters have a very compelling reason to vote for Romney. He’s interested more in jobs than rhetoric,” he said.
Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) seemed to disagree. At a rally Thursday morning in Denver, Udall reportedly said the president’s debate performance was “thoughtful, dignified, and truthful.”
Of the two debaters, Masket said Romney was the winner. “I think Romney came across as a bit stronger, more forceful, picking more fights with the moderator (PBS’ Jim Lehrer) than Obama,” he said.