Kerry Distracted From Tending to Colorado

Colorado is on the fringes of the playing field in the presidential campaign, a Republican-leaning state that Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) has in his sights because of its weak economy and growing Hispanic population.

But a dip in the polls, and other harsh political realities, have forced Kerry to focus his resources on 10 other states, including Florida and four in the Midwest, while tabling plans to put Colorado and a few other GOP bastions into play.

Kerry's advisers say they plan to intensify their bid for Colorado in October, but Democratic strategists outside the campaign say that won't be possible unless he erases President Bush's lead nationally and regains the political advantage in the top 10 states.

The president campaigned here Tuesday as part of his plan to put Colorado, Missouri, Arizona, North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana out of contention before Kerry can dial up his campaign in the second-tier battlegrounds, all of them won by Bush four years ago.

Colorado has lost 76,000 jobs since Bush took office, and the unemployment rate has increased from 2.6 percent to 5.1 percent. The Republican-run government has slashed state budgets, including money for social services.

The state's problems include the bursting of the high-tech bubble, a tourism drop and drought. But the Democratic nominee is blaming Bush.

Undeterred, Bush rattled off state and national unemployment figures before a GOP crowd on Tuesday and said, "This economy is strong and we're not turning back."

The war in Iraq is unpopular here, as elsewhere.

Republicans have a huge advantage over Democrats in registered voters, but independents outnumber GOP voters.

Colorado hasn't been won by a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992. Even then, Clinton needed the help of Ross Perot, who won 23 percent of the vote.

Both the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee (search) left Colorado off their post-Labor Day advertising blitz. Under pressure, the DNC made a nominal ad buy in Missouri and Colorado.