Colorado's nine electoral votes will not only be in play in the 2012 presidential election, by all accounts they may be essential for victory.
"The winning of a state like Colorado is going to be absolutely critical and will be to some extent a metaphor for the entire country," political analyst Floyd Ciruli maintains. "If you can't win in particular the Unaffiliated voter in Colorado, that independent voter, you probably can't carry a whole host of states in this country."
Republican strategist Karl Rove put it more bluntly in a speech at a Colorado Springs GOP fundraiser in June when he said, "In 2012, as goes Colorado, so goes the nation."
"Colorado is incredibly important," agrees Colorado Democratic Chair Rick Palacio. President Obama won Colorado in 2008 by nine points. I'm convinced that he's going to do it the same way again."
Obama strategist David Axelrod has said the President must hold Colorado, and possibly Nevada and New Mexico which he also won in 2008, in order to win a second term.
"Quite frankly if he doesn't do as well in Ohio or Florida or larger states back east," Ciruli explains, "there is no doubt that Democrats the last four years have gotten much more viable here in the West."State GOP Chair Ryan Call agrees. "The President has to win this state and I believe he won't. Colorado's electorate is an independent minded bunch of voters...roughly divided into a third Republican, a third Democrat and a third Unaffiliated. And it's those Unaffiliated voters in the middle that often are the deciding influence with how presidential and even local races go."
In 2008 Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination in Denver and his subsequent victory in Colorado was solid. But Colorado voters, especially those registered as Unaffiliated, are notorious for swinging back and forth. George Bush took the state twice, in 2000 and 2004. Bob Dole, from neighboring Kansas won Colorado in 1996 and before that Bill Clinton won in 1992.
And Ciruli believes the President will have a much tougher time winning Colorado in 2012. "His problem is he's now part of the problem: Washington, D.C. People are not happy about the economy...they're not happy about the budget gridlock. They blame Washington, including the President."
But the Republican wave that swept the nation in the 2010 elections had a major bright spot for Democrats when Colorado Senator Michael Bennet narrowly retained his seat. His successful campaign provides a winning template for the President in Colorado and elsewhere.
"Senator Bennet won in 2010 because of three constituencies: female voters, the young voters and the Latino voters," according to Palacio, "and the President is probably going to follow the same suit in Colorado."
Call says Colorado Republicans have also learned from Bennet's victory. "Republicans are reaching out to Hispanics, to women voters in ways that perhaps we didn't do in connection with the senate race. And I think that will be a big part of our victory in the upcoming election."
Another part of Bennet's winning strategy may also come into play in the Presidential race depending on who the Republicans nominate as their candidate. His campaign took great pains to portray his opponent, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck as, "Too extreme for Colorado."
"That race was mean, it was close and it was expensive," says Ciruli. That description will no doubt also apply to the 2012 presidential race in Colorado and across the nation.