DENVER, COLORADO —
This year's presidential election may be decided in a handful of so-called "swing states," where President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are running neck and neck in public opinion polls. The western state of Colorado has only nine electoral votes, which will all go to the candidate who wins a majority of the state's popular votes in November. And Colorado is one of the few states that could go either way, so it is being hotly contested.
Thousands of Obama supporters were on the streets of the Denver suburb of Golden, Colorado recently, when the president came to visit. Obama won here four years ago and many of his supporters remain enthusiastic.
Those who identify with a party here are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. So, independent voters like Sherry Toms are the key to victory. And she still likes the president.
"To switch everything and do a 360 with the Republican Party might not be the best thing right now," said Toms.
The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, was not here this day, but his son, Josh Romney, met with supporters not far from the Obama event.
While young voters helped elect Obama in 2008, some, like Alex Insco, now favor Romney.
"I haven't seen any change. I was hoping for change, but I still haven't gotten it yet," said Insco.
Around 80 percent of Colorado's population is now located in cities and suburbs. In a state once characterized by sparsely-populated areas such as the Rocky Mountains, demographic change turned Colorado from reliably Republican to a so-called "battleground."
Many of the people who moved to Colorado from other states in recent years were drawn by its scenic beauty. But, to live here, they also need jobs. Colorado's unemployment rate is slightly higher than the national average and economic anxiety could sway many independent voters.
"If the issues get framed in terms of economic conditions and that is how they are feeling about things - the loss of value in their homes, the difficulty of setting aside money to send their kids to college or just filling up their gas tank with fuel - they are more likely to go with the out party, the Republicans," noted University of Colorado at Boulder political scientist Kenneth Bickers.
But Bickers says Colorado's women voters could side with Obama if the race turns to social issues like abortion, which Republicans oppose. Tara Speigel is one such voter.
"If you listen to Romney speak and you listen to Obama speak, Obama is clearly for the women and he is for our rights," Speigel said.
Still, in many suburban areas of Denver, women like Marla Wayneman are prominent Romney supporters.
"Women with children will have a perspective on the economy and the effect that our deficit will have on the security of the nation," said Wayneman.
In the weeks ahead, Colorado's citizens will see more of both candidates as well as a constant barrage of television ads aimed at independent voters who have yet to make up their minds.