News / USA

Colorado Races Highlight Jobs, Economy, Local Issues

In the American West, as in much of the country, jobs and the economy are the top issues in Tuesday's midterm elections. In Pueblo, Colorado voters are also concerned about regional issues, including water rights, that cut across party lines.  

In Colorado Springs, south of Denver, conservatives and Republicans dominate politics. At local Republican headquarters, Kay Rendleman says conservatives think that government under the Democrats has gotten too intrusive.

"There has been under the [Barack] Obama administration a big increase in the involvement of the government and expansion of government. And you've seen with the Tea Party movement and we've seen from people talking that Americans are uncomfortable with that; Coloradans are uncomfortable with that," Rendleman said.

At the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, political scientist Joshua Dunn says widespread unhappiness with high unemployment and with President Barack Obama have made the economy the central issue in the elections. "Precisely because everyone is so angry on the right now about what's gone on in Washington with health care, the government stimulus -- those things have tended to put more focus back on those economic issues," he said.

In Colorado's race for governor, moderate Democrat John Hickenlooper is facing two conservatives, Republican Dan Maes and former Republican representative Tom Tancredo, who is running under the banner of the American Constitution Party.  

Democrats hope that Maes and Tancredo will divide the conservative vote and help elect Hickenlooper, who is the mayor of Denver.

In Colorado Springs, volunteers urge Democrats to vote.

Democratic county chairman Hal Bidlack says the economy is the central issue. "The issues here in the county and in the state center, like most of the country, around jobs, around the economy. The Republican message is that things were fine until Obama came into office. And the Democratic message is that things were a disaster until Obama came into office.  And who people believe tends to be flavored by their partisanship," he said.

Democrats face an uphill battle in Colorado Springs, which is home to the United States Air Force Academy and many military voters as well as conservative religious groups like Focus on the Family.

But further south in the steel mill town of Pueblo, Democrats dominate politically. Unemployment stands 1.5 percent above the state average and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the economy.

Pueblo City Council member Vera Ortegon, a Republican candidate for the state senate, says jobs and health care are key issues in these elections, and that Republicans differ from Democrats on how to solve the problems, whether through more or less government intervention.

But she says that regional issues like access to water cut across party lines. "When it comes to water, we don't really have Republicans against Democrats at all.  What we have is people from Pueblo against the rest of the world," she said.

Colorado has one of the nation's tightest races for the U.S. Senate, with Democrat Michel Bennet locked in a close race with Republican Ken Buck. Bennet was appointed to the senate early last year to replace Ken Salazar, who was selected by President Obama to be Secretary of the Interior. Buck is a county district attorney.

Colorado State Assembly member, Democrat Sal Pace is up for reelection in Pueblo. He says his party is urging supporters to vote in local races and on local issues.

"In Pueblo, in partisan politics for decades, so much of the game has been turning out our Democratic voters. And there's a large number of infrequent-voting Democrats in Pueblo who, if they all vote, make the difference for candidates across the board -- from the top to the bottom of the ticket."

Political analyst Joshua Dunn says the state's biggest city, Denver, tends to vote Democratic, so statewide races often are decided in the suburbs and outlying districts, such as Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

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