"There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear."
More than four decades ago, Stephen Stills wrote those words, the first lines of "For What It's Worth," the legendary Buffalo Springfield protest song.
Those two sentences also could describe the buildup to this 2008 general election in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
Obviously, something is happening here. Sen. Barack Obama's ground-floor campaign, with at least 10 full-time staffers locally, has made its presence known in this Republican bastion, far more than any previous Democratic presidential campaign. Many thousands of new voters have registered, and the Obama machine has been working diligently to make sure that everyone who registers also will vote, preferably via mail-in ballot.
The question is how much impact that effort will have. Perhaps enough to push Obama over the top in Colorado, a pivotal battleground state? Possibly enough to influence some local races? That's the part that ain't exactly clear.
Certainly, Colorado Springs already is attracting more outside attention than usual. One of the best-known political blogs, huffingtonpost.com, posted a lengthy piece Oct. 11 from regular contributor Mayhill Fowler. She refers to the local political terrain as "tricky and shifting." She has noticed the volunteers working for Obama, and how well-organized they are. She talks about campaign tactics across Colorado, such as a focus on registering thousands of Hispanics, especially on the Western Slope.
Fowler quotes John Morris, the El Paso County Democratic chairman, saying, "Colorado Springs is no longer a black hole of Republican extremism."
Strong words. But nobody knows whether they'll translate into more Democratic successes. Fowler offers one bold observation, saying Colorado Springs "is poised to reject" rookie congressman Doug Lamborn in favor of Democratic challenger Hal Bidlack. That would be a remarkable upset, but Bidlack has impressed virtually everyone he has encountered, and he did attract endorsements from the Denver Post (a significant boost) as well as the Independent.
Further down the ballot and beneath the Huffington Post radar, two local races for the state Legislature could be affected by the Democrats' get-out-the-vote momentum. One is Democratic newcomer Pete Lee and Republican Keith King in state Senate District 12, located in the city's western and southwestern areas. The other is state House District 17, in southeastern sections of the metro area, as Republican Kit Roupe battles Democrat Dennis Apuan.
Could the Obama effect extend down the ballot? Already, Lee and Apuan figure to have a good chance, given their energy and positive campaigns.
Other factors could come into play. For example, evangelical support for Amendment 48 (defining personhood) could help the local conservative turnout, and those Amendment 48 supporters likely would vote for Lamborn.
What would constitute a victory for Obama here? Organizers feel 35 percent in El Paso County would put them over the top statewide. With minimal effort, John Kerry received 32 percent of this county's vote in 2004 77,648 to 161,361 for George W. Bush. This time, the county could have a turnout of more than 300,000, which means Obama would be hoping for 105,000 or more.
If that sounds optimistic, consider this math: Democrats now have 84,000-plus registered voters in this county, with 85 to 90 percent expected to cast ballots. That's at least 70,000, likely closer to 75,000, almost all for Obama. Now consider unaffiliated/independent voters, more than 120,000 here. Let's say 70 percent of them vote, meaning 85,000 or so, with 40 percent for Obama (though we hear it could be 50-50 among independents, even in Colorado Springs).
That takes Obama to the 105,000 range even without a single vote from a Republican, and there are indications Obama could siphon off 10 to 15 percent of local GOP voters.
All of those numbers are low-end estimates. Push them out further, especially if Obama's campaign succeeds in turning more registrants into votes, and it's possible he could surpass 40 percent locally.
If that happens, we might need another old song to describe this county:
"The times, they are a-changin'."
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