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(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

How the U.S. voters changed their stripes Add to ...

It was in Denver that Barack Obama’s presidential campaign began in 2008, before a packed, deafening crowd that filled the city’s football stadium, when he became the Democrats’ nominee for president. Until then, Colorado had been firmly Republican when it came to presidential races.

Since then, Mr. Obama has proved that it’s a prominent “purple state” – part Republican red, part Democrat blue. While most of House of Representatives members from Colorado are Republican, both senators are not.

The President’s formula here relies on a broad coalition of minorities, women and young voters. But Latinos were thought to be a tougher sell.

That’s because they overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton in her race against Mr. Obama, a race that ended when he took the stage in Denver four years ago. There were questions about whether Latinos would show up to vote for him, and even some suggestion they night resent a black candidate for president.

He won them over slowly. His health-care bill was popular among parts of America’s Latino community, large swaths of which were uninsured. He pushed for the DREAM Act, which would give legal status to scores of young, American-raised Latinos. When Congress balked, he struck up a program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that opened the door to giving young illegal residents work papers.

This won him favour with Latinos. What didn’t was the hard line he took on deportation – no president has booted out more illegal residents than Barack Obama.

But Republicans took a harder line. Mr. Obama didn’t so much win Latinos as capitalize on their anger. It made Mr. Rodriguez’s job easy, as the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center said that 14 per cent of Colorado’s voters were Latino this year, with 75 per cent backing Mr. Obama and 23 per cent backing Mitt Romney.

But the Colorado version of Mr. Obama’s so-called coalition goes beyond Denver’s Latinos – it includes the richest enclave in the state.

Not surprisingly, the town at the heart of Colorado’s wealthiest area is Aspen, the ski resort and billionaire playground. The surrounding county went overwhelmingly Democratic on Tuesday, and is one of the 10 richest in America – eight of which, CNBC reported, went to Mr. Obama.

There has long been a link between being rich and being Republican, but “in the state of Colorado, that correlation does not hold,” says Tom Cronin, the political scientist.

Leading the party’s effort in Aspen and the surrounding county was Blanca Uzeta O’Leary, a 54-year-old Latina lawyer who mobilized a grassroots coalition of women, the rich and Latinos, typically from towns around Aspen.

She calls Aspen a “blue dot” enclave of Democratic support, with independents and moderates, despite the money. “Wealthy people have been coming here forever, and even the Republicans that come here aren’t the Tea Party republicans,” she says.

For young women, Democrats stressed Planned Parenthood funding and reproductive rights – which, to the surprise of Ms. O’Leary, was a top issue among young Latinas. “That’s what I couldn’t believe ... I thought the Catholic Church was a big deal, until this summer,” she says.

Even immigration, typically a top issue for Latino voters, wasn’t registering. “It was birth control and planned parenthood. I thought that was cool. They just don’t think that’s right.”

Among the rich, it was issues of climate change and the middle class. Among the older Latinos, it was immigration, and the Republicans had already angered voters. “They went out of their way to top each other on who could be the most racist and slanderous to people with brown skin,” Ms. O’Leary said, adding the Republicans made her job “hugely” easy. “They did it all themselves.”

Back in Colorado Springs, the third political scientist to address the visitors from Asia, echoed the theme of her colleagues: “We’re seeing a changing landscape.”

Dana Wittmer researches women voters, and says unmarried women broke 2-to-1 for Mr. Obama. Clearly, she adds, the Republicans’ constituency is shrinking and the consequences for the party are dire. “When you start to think about the changing demographics of the country, that’s not the best strategy moving forward.”

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