The battle for Colorado, writ small

Obama vs. McCain, as fought by the shop owners of swinging Jefferson County, just outside Denver.

By Amanda Leigh Mascarelli

Published November 5, 2008 1:40AM (EST)

Months ago the Obama campaign identified Colorado as one of the two most important reddish states, with Virginia, that it hoped to move to the Democratic column in this election. The emotional battle over Colorado's nine electoral votes was on full display this afternoon in Morrison, a sleepy mountain town some 20 minutes southwest of Denver. Morrison is home to fewer than 500 people, but it is square in the heart of Jefferson County, where suburbs filled with two-story homes swell across the prairie landscape just east of the Rocky Mountains. Jefferson County has racked up Republican wins in the last seven elections, albeit with an ever-narrowing margin. This time around, Colorado is leaning blue, due largely to a surge in Hispanic voters and a swinging suburban electorate.

In one Morrison Country store, smelling sweetly of cinnamon and overflowing with holiday ornaments, the owner eyed me suspiciously before rattling off a laundry list of reasons why she had not voted for Barack Obama, whom she didn't actually mention by name. "I don't like the idea of them spreading the wealth around," said the shopkeeper, who asked not to be named. "I think it's a really scary thing for this country. I was crying last night and I'll probably be crying tonight."

A couple of blocks away, at another old country store, a shop owner told me that she'd been so unsure about which candidate to vote for as of late last week that she'd resorted to consulting a psychic. "I walked around the kitchen table and just couldn't make up my mind," said the woman, who also asked not to be named. "I was really tearful." The psychic, she said, told her that the astrology charts surrounding Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin were "full of deception," which tilted her vote for Obama.

A shopper nearby, 48-year-old Lucy Ollweiler, of the neighboring suburb of Golden, offered her opinion, saying "I'm leaving the country if Obama doesn't win." Ollweiler, a bookkeeper for her husband's consulting business, said that while their home business would see a tax increase under Obama, "we're more than happy to just give our share." This exchange prompted 59-year-old Nancy Kalapp to retort, "And I'm leaving the country if he does." Kalapp later clarified that she wouldn't actually leave the country, but that Obama "is going to be in everybody's back pockets." As she walked out, her friend hissed behind her, "And go ahead and throw in that he's a terrorist, too."

If these exchanges -- which took place in less than 10 minutes -- are any reflection of the emotionally charged and polarized nature of Colorado's voters, the state is not going blue without a fight.


Amanda Leigh Mascarelli

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