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Gazette Premium Content Obama visit highlights suburb role in Colorado politics

KRISTEN WYATT Updated: January 26, 2012 at 12:00 am

AURORA — With his campaign stop in the Denver suburb of Aurora on Thursday, President Barack Obama courted a voting bloc that is key to determining who wins the presidential contest in the swing state of Colorado.

Both Democrats and Republicans have done well in the past in the vote-rich communities like Aurora that surround Denver. It's a battleground within this battleground state, and Arapahoe, Adams and Jefferson counties are full of the prized "persuadable voters" this year's presidential candidates will need.

Arapahoe County, where Obama talked briefly about clean energy on Thursday, voted for Republican President George W. Bush in 2004. But it chose Obama in 2008, helping him become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Colorado since Bill Clinton in 1992.

In a 2010 Senate campaign, voters in Arapahoe County again chose a Democrat, Michael Bennet. But Republican Rep. Michael Coffman has represented the county in Congress since 2008. GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo preceded him.

Obama accepted his Democratic presidential nomination in Denver in 2008. And while the recession hasn't hit Colorado as hard as some parts of the country, it has been felt. In December, Colorado's unemployment rate dipped under 8 percent for the first time since 2010.

The struggling economy has some voters predicting a fierce suburban election battle this fall.

Sitting with coffee and a computer Thursday at a strip-mall coffee shop, Aurora pastor Mike Montgomery said he's not certain who will carry his county.

"I would say it's more Democratic around here, but this year, I don't know," said Montgomery, who works at a nondenominational Christian church. "I think there's a better chance for a Republican to win this year. People are dissatisfied with the last four years, strongly dissatisfied."

"I've had three neighbors (who) had to short-sell their houses. Three! That's awful," said Aurora contractor Floyd Pettijohn.

The Republican said he's certain to vote for the GOP nominee and predicted independents will do the same. "I don't know anybody — anybody — who's planning to vote for that idiot again," Pettijohn said of Obama.

Across the parking lot at another coffee shop, voters disagreed with Pettijohn. They said their neighbors aren't happy with the president, but they're sometimes alarmed by what they perceive as extreme conservatism among the Republican candidates.

Cable installer Thanh Le said Republicans have a strong chance in the suburbs if they are seen as moderates.

"If they'd keep their mouths shut, maybe they'd be OK," said Le, 42.

Nearby, Democrat John Kelley said he thinks it's possible for Republicans to regain supremacy in his suburban county. But he predicted Obama's attention to independent voters, and campaign stops in the suburbs such as the one Thursday, could make the difference.

"He's a proficient politician," Kelley said of the president, "and he's doing everything he can."

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