The Road to the White House Through Colorado

Crisanta Duran’s Facebook profile photo shows her with Barack Obama while he was campaigning for the presidency.

ON CRISANTA DURAN’S Facebook profile picture, she can be seen standing next to President Barack Obama who is beaming his familiar smile that pundit Chris Matthews says is worth five to ten points in a general election.

Duran, a freshman state legislator from Denver, hopes that’s true because those five to ten points could help Obama win her critically important home state.

“I think the road to the White House is going to be through the Western States — including Colorado,” says Duran, who has been one of the Obama campaign’s weapons in trying to re-energize the Latino vote that helped propel him to the presidency in 2008.

Duran and other Democratic leaders in the state say that revitalization is critical in Colorado because of its sketchy support of Democrats in the presidential elections. In 2008, Obama was only the second Democratic presidential candidate to take the state since 1964.

In a close November general election, Duran says, the Latino vote could well be what determines which candidate wins Colorado’s nine electoral votes.

“Our country faces a lot of challenges, but I have full confidence that President Obama has the ability to lead in a variety of economic areas,” says Duran, 31, an attorney and rising star in Colorado politics. “I think other voters in Colorado will see the same thing, and that we can deliver the election to the president.”

The Obama campaign has put a special earmark on Colorado, believing that it must rely on increased backing from Hispanics to make up for softened support among other voters in the state.

“The Latino community in Colorado can ultimately determine who ends up being the next president of the United States,” Obama told radio listeners during a recent visit to the state. Underscoring that: The President has made five visits to Colorado since last summer.

The Obama campaign has also hit the state hard with Spanish-language TV and radio ads and hopes to have some 40 offices around the state by the end of the summer. It is also recruiting hundreds of Latino outreach volunteers for a door to door voter registering drive and to staff phone banks.

“It’s going to be a nail-biter,” says Democratic political strategist Alan Salazar. “Obama’s challenge among Hispanics is pretty simple: Overcoming apathy.”

Latinos represent 21 percent of Colorado’s population and make up 13 percent of its eligible voters, with a plurality of them registered Democrats. Latinos grew faster than any other group in the state during the last decade, according to Census figures.

In 2008,  Obama won about 6 in 10 Latino votes in Colorado.

But Obama’s support among Latinos has come into question, largely over the immigration issue and the million deportations of illegal immigrants by the administration — more than any previous presidency. A recent Gallup poll found that the President’s approval rate among Hispanics had fallen to 48 percent compared to 60 percent in January.

The President and his supporters are hoping that last Friday’s halt of deportations of illegal immigrant youth will reverse the negative slide.

A Latino Decisions poll Sunday found that 49 percent of Latinos in five key battleground states — including Colorado —  were “more enthusiastic” about Obama after his announcement on Friday. But that’s practically the same number as the 48 percent who weren’t impressed: 34 percent saying they are “unchanged” on Obama and 14 percent saying they “are less enthusiastic.”

Duran says she believes the President’s new directive stopping the deportation of young illegal immigrants will generate even stronger support once Latinos compare the Obama position with that of likely GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

“I think that Mitt Romney has been pandering to the rightwing of the Republican Party,” she said. “And (Senator) Marco Rubio’s (DREAM Act alternative) was just an attempt at damage control.

“Immigration is an extremely emotional issue, and it will generate an emotional political response that at the end of the day will mean a lot of enthusiasm for President Obama.”