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Last Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007, 17:48 GMT
Republicans plot key Colorado fightback
By Jamie Coomarasamy
BBC News, Washington

The purple flags and signs have come down in Denver, as the city comes to terms with the Colorado Rockies' recent defeat in the baseball World Series.

Bill Ritter
Bill Ritter grabbed the governor's mansion from the Republicans
But purple is not just the Rockies' colour, it's increasingly becoming the political complexion of this south-western state: a mixture of Democratic blue and Republican red.

Colorado voted for the Republican candidate in nine of the past 10 presidential races, but in the most recent elections, Republicans have lost a US Senate seat, the governor's mansion and the state legislature. The GOP is on the defensive.

At a golf club in the foothills of the Rockies, I went to see how the party is plotting its fightback.

At an evening of the Mountain Republican Women's Club, candidates for next year's state and national elections were given the chance to make a pitch, to convince grass-roots activists that they can reverse the trend.

I found plenty of Reagan-esque optimism, but a fair helping of realism about the recent past.

Discontent

"There's a healthy period of questioning going on at the moment. It's unsettled right now," said Rob Witwer, a Republican member of the state legislature.

A vendor sells beads outside Coors Field in Denver a game in the baseball World Series

He narrowly won re-election last year, but said that while he canvassed in a normally conservative suburb of Denver, all he heard was discontent with George W Bush.

The Republicans' recipe for renewed success, seems to be a return to conservative principles; emphasising commitment to lower taxes and taking a tough view on illegal immigration.

President Bush's support for a comprehensive immigration reform plan, which many local Republicans see as weak on border security, has been a problem for the party, in a state where polls suggest illegal immigration is the voter's top priority.

The evening's star turn is Bob Schaffer, the party's candidate for the US Senate seat being vacated in 2008 by fellow Republican Wayne Allard.

He rounds off his pitch with a six-minute recital, without notes, of founding father Patrick Henry's famous speech of 1775, which ended with the revolutionary cry: "Give me liberty or give me death".

Key votes

Then, this call to rise up against the encroaching British army was met with cries of: "To arms, to arms". Today, the call to rise up against the encroaching democratic hordes is met with enthusiastic applause. This is a party looking for encouragement.

President Bush
Some of President Bush's policies are seen as a problem in Colorado
In downtown Denver, a person who is providing that for the rival party is visiting. Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is visiting, accompanied by a local band, Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

"Colorado is instrumental in showing that the west is an important place for Democrats to run and compete," she told me. "I want to go everywhere in our country and make the case for change. We can run here and win."

The Democratic Party had already made its intentions clear, by deciding to hold its national convention in Denver next August. Together with New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, they believe that Colorado forms part of a south-western quartet, which could deliver the electoral college votes needed for victory next November.

But Colorado's Republican Party chairman, Dick Wadhams, argues that both the location of the convention and the likely Clinton candidacy will help his party's chances.

He sees both events as a reminder to the state's voters that national Democrats are far more liberal than the sort of western brand, who have prospered here in the past few years. And he argues that Hillary Clinton's negative poll ratings in this region are higher than in many other parts of the US.

Solutions

"Certainly, the Bush presidency will be under debate next year," he admits. "But when people vote there will be two names on the ballot. Hillary Clinton and one other."

Hillary Clinton in Denver
Hillary Clinton wants to woo western states like Colorado
But whoever is on the ballot, the most popular political figures in Colorado remain pragmatic Democrats, such as Governor Bill Ritter and Denver mayor John Hickenlooper.

Governor Ritter's election, in particular, was partly down to the demographic changes, in a state which has grown at around 3% a year.

The influx of Christian conservatives in the 1990s gave way to new, more democratically inclined arrivals - whether they were part of dotcom boom or the Hispanic influx - while the numbers of unaffiliated voters is currently at around a third.

According to recent polls, these floating voters currently favour the Democrats. They could play a decisive role next year. And, according to Mayor Hickenlooper, even those Coloradans who say they are Republican or Democratic aren't staunch supporters. "Political convictions are less important here," he says. "People want solutions."

Local Democratic Party Chairwoman, Pat Waak, is convinced that this gives her party the advantage and that, despite what the Republicans say, the 2008 election will still be a referendum on the Bush-Cheney years.

"All the discontent with the Republicans stems from their legacy," Ms Waak told me. "That's why the polls suggest that any Democrat can beat any Republican in this field."

So is this confidence... or over-confidence? Certainly, the political trends appear to be going in the Democrats' direction and the soul-searching in the Republican Party suggests that they have an extra hurdle to climb, before they can compete with full confidence, in states like Colorado.

But the sense of social and political flux in this part of the US gives them hope, at least, that a strong candidate and a strong message can reverse the defeats of recent years.



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SEE ALSO
State profile: Colorado
01 Nov 07 |  Americas

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