Democrats have targeted Colorado and four other states as key races to win to solidify their Senate majority in next year's election, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Monday.

"I believe you have one of the most important Senate races in the entire country," Daschle told a crowd of several hundred people at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 68.

Daschle, D-S.D., also helped Democratic Senate candidate Tom Strickland open his office before he headed to Aspen to attend a private fund-raiser.

On Tuesday, President Bush will help raise money for the potential re-election bids of Gov. Bill Owens and Sen. Wayne Allard, both Republicans as part of a two-day trip to Colorado. He also plans to help build a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park and stop by the YMCA center in Estes Park.

The back-to-back visits underscore the importance the major political parties attach to Colorado, where about 35 percent of the 2.8 million registered voters are Republican, 30 percent are Democrats, 34 percent are independent and 1 percent belong to minor parties.

The Democrats focused on Colorado after a poll indicated Allard was vulnerable, said Jennifer Duffy, who follows the U.S. Senate for the Cook Political Report, an independent political journal based in Washington, D.C.

The poll, done in June by Boulder-based Talmey-Drake Research & Strategy Inc., concluded Allard would have received 39 percent of the vote and Strickland would have received 34 percent if the election had been that day. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Subsequent polls showed a similar weakness, she said.

With a third of the U.S. Senate up for grabs and bigger states not in the running, Duffy said Democrats and Republicans can throw all the resources they need into key states like Colorado during this cycle, known in Washington, D.C., as "the cheap cycle."

"The stakes are as high as ever, and the playing field is small," she said.

Strickland declared his candidacy last week. He could face a primary challenge from Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter.

If Allard seeks re-election, the contest will be a rematch of the 1996 U.S. Senate race, which he won 51 percent to 49 percent.

Allard said Monday the Democratic Party is focusing its attention on smaller states like Colorado where it can get more exposure for less money.

"Obviously, they're willing to drop it in if they need it," Allard said.

Allard is expected to announce his own candidacy early next year, after the session ends and he has time to talk with his family. He already has raised about $1.1 million for the race. Strickland expected to have $50,000 in the bank after the Monday fund-raiser in Aspen.

During the union hall speech, Daschle noted that Democrats won control of the state Senate for the first time in 40 years during the last election. He said he hopes that same spirit will help give Democrats a boost in their bid to shore up control of the U.S. Senate, where they now hold a one-vote margin.

Daschle called Strickland "one of the most electable Democrats to be found."

He said other states targeted by Democrats include North Carolina, Arkansas, New Hampshire and Oregon.