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Democratic Field Offices Boost Obama In Colorado


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Look at the electoral maps put up by political analysts and a few things become clear: President Obama holds an advantage in the state-by-state electoral votes that determine this fall's election.

INSKEEP: But his lead in several key states is narrow, and as of now, the red and blue maps put up by those analysts suggest he is still short of the 270 votes he would need to win.

MONTAGNE: A handful of states will make the difference, including the state we visit next.

The president campaigns today in Colorado, trying to hold onto a state he won in 2008. Mitt Romney campaigned last week in that state, which voted twice for George W. Bush.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports on a Rocky Mountain showdown.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In a suburban strip mall south of Denver, a group of seniors has assembled for their twice-weekly campaign assignment. Each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, they gather in a small office between a liquor store and a nail salon and spend a couple of hours making phone calls on behalf of President Obama.

Michael Lenzini spent his working years building a number of different marketing companies. Now that he's retired, he's marketing the president.

MICHAEL LENZINI: The president has my interests at heart. President Obama, as opposed to Romney, is the only one who can deliver what's going to keep this country together.

HORSLEY: This office sits near the boundaries of Jefferson, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, which together form a semicircle around the city of Denver.

The population of Douglas County mushroomed by 62 percent in the last decade. Lenzini, who's a longtime resident of the area, says the politics are changing, as well.

LENZINI: We look around for more Democratic friends.


LENZINI: We know many of our neighbors are Republicans. But we would probably say they were closer to us, being more moderate and centrist.

HORSLEY: In fact, these suburbs have become a kind of swing region within this swing state. Four years ago, Mr. Obama's success in the suburbs helped him carry Colorado easily. But Mitt Romney's hoping to win those voters back.

During his own campaign trip to the state last week, Romney gave the president a failing grade for his handling of the economy.


MITT ROMNEY: We have 23 million Americans today that are out of work or underemployed, people who have pulled out of the workforce - 23 million.

HORSLEY: Some of those discouraged workers could be found this week at the Holiday Inn on Colorado Boulevard, making their pitch to a handful of recruiters sitting at folding tables around the edge of a ballroom.

Denise Buckheiser moved here from Texas, looking for administrative or laboratory work, so far without success.

DENISE BUCKHEISER: Right now, I'm ready to go work at McDonalds, honestly, just to have a job. So, that's the point I'm at. I'm living with family. I'm one of those people that's with family, living off the kindness of strangers. So, yeah, it's very scary right now.

HORSLEY: Unemployment in Colorado is on par with the rest of the country. While the depths of the recession here were not as deep, the recovery has been painfully slow.

Brad Hatfield brought a stack of resumes to the job fair, but came away empty-handed.

BRAD HATFIELD: It's still a lot of jobs out there, but that are 10 to 12 bucks an hour, to be honest, and not a lot of the professional jobs that I would say were here five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years ago.

HORSLEY: Colorado actually lost nearly 7,000 jobs between May and June. Buckheiser and Hatfield aren't convinced that either Mr. Obama or Romney has the answer.

BUCKHEISER: I don't like either one of them right now.


HATFIELD: I don't think it's going to change much, no matter who's elected.

HORSLEY: That disillusionment is something both candidates have to overcome, especially Mr. Obama, whose coalition includes more young and minority voters whose turnout is less reliable.

That's why the president's team has invested heavily in efforts like the senior phone bank, and why the campaign has opened 32 field offices around the state - three times as many as Romney.

Political scientist Seth Masket of the University of Denver looked at the effect of those field offices in 2008 and found they boosted Democratic turnout by one to two percentage points. That could make a difference in a tight race.

SETH MASKET: Of all the different ways that a campaign can contact a voter, overwhelmingly, knocking on someone's door is the most effective way. It's also the most labor and time-intensive. So it's something that's much harder to get people to do. And if you have a bunch of money, it's easier to just put a bunch of ads on. But those actually have a much more muted effect.

HORSLEY: Not that the candidates are giving up on TV ads. After a brief respite following last month's shootings in Aurora, Colorado, the broadcast battle is filling the state's airwaves again.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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