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Colorado Republicans erase deficit in early voting, sprint with Dems to Election Day

November 5, 2016 Updated: November 7, 2016 at 9:54 am

Those looking into the tea leaves of early voting to predict this election are out of luck.

Registered Republicans have pulled to within half a percentage point of Democrats in ballots returned. A week after the ballots were mailed Oct. 17, Democrats surged to 42 percent of the votes cast compared with 34.5 percent by Republicans. The popular liberal blog Colorado Pols declared, "Colorado Republicans can start to panic now."

The problem with that panic attack is only 4 percent of the registered voters had cast their ballots at that point before the Nov. 8 election.

On Friday, with ballots from nearly 48 percent of the state's 3.2 million registered voters waiting to be counted, Democrats led 35.6 percent to 35.2 percent.

"I think what you're seeing is a very even dead heat between Republicans and Democrats," said Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Colorado's chief election official and the former El Paso County clerk. "Any time it's this close (in early voting), Colorado is in play."

Donald Trump thinks so. He made his eighth Colorado appearance of the campaign in Denver on Saturday night.

So far, 53.5 percent of registered Democrats have voted. Republican turnout as of Friday was 53.2 percent. About one-third of third-party voters have weighed in, including about 25 percent of the 806 members of the Colorado Unity Party.

Hillary Clinton jumped out to a double-digit lead in Colorado last month as Trump languished in controversy over his remarks about and treatment of women. He has surged as news emerged that the investigation into Clinton's handling of classified emails might not be over.

"This is an indication that Republicans are closing the gap with Democrats in Colorado and that Donald Trump has the momentum in this race," said Trump's senior adviser in Colorado, Patrick Davis. "Colorado voters are clearly excited about their candidate and are turning out big league in this state."

Trump surge

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, in Reno, Nev. Later in the rally Trump was pulled off stage by Secret Service agents. (AP Photo/John Locher) 

While it's hard to say exactly how well Trump is doing, he has closed the polling gap in Colorado in recent weeks, in no small part because he has maintained a personal presence here.

He has made five appearances in Colorado since Oct. 3 to one by Clinton.

Kyle Saunders, a political scientist at Colorado State University, said that when Trump started his march across Colorado, it didn't make sense. He trailed by a wide margin, and Colorado offers just nine electoral college votes.

"Now, of course, it looks pretty brilliant as poll margins close and Colorado looks more and more competitive," Saunders said. "Did they have internal polling that signaled this? Hard to know. However, the redeployment of resources - via campaign ads and other spending here - by the Clinton campaign and visits by proxies also are a signal that they see that Colorado is getting competitive as well."

Saunders said Trump had been outgunned by Clinton in terms of staffing and ground game in Colorado, but he has been masterful in generating press and rallying supporters.

"Colorado, to this point in the discussion, has been offered as nine electoral college votes in the 272 electoral college vote Clinton firewall," he said. "You need 270 to win. If some of the other states continue to tighten, and I am not saying that they will, Colorado could be a tipping-point state."

Clinton still leads, barely

Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli surveyed those who had cast their vote as of last weekend and those who hadn't for a poll released Wednesday.

Those who had voted favored Clinton 45 percent to 38 percent, while those who had not voted gave Trump the edge, 45 percent to 37 percent. Democratic Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet had a clear advantage with those who had voted, 53 percent to 36 percent, but Republican challenger Darrell Glenn, an El Paso County commissioner, led with those who have not, 45 percent to 42 percent.

Colorado's unaffiliated voters, the largest bloc by registration, have been the slowest to return ballots, at 37.6 percent.

The unaffiliated voters polled a week ago, however, gave Clinton a narrow edge, 35 percent to 33 percent. While 90 percent of those polled who identified as Democrats said they would vote for Clinton, 85 percent of Republicans had settled on Trump - an improvement for him from the low 80s during much of the race, Ciruli said.

"He still has a ways to go," Ciruli said of Clinton's lead in both statistics.

The political temperature in the Colorado Springs area has risen of late.

As of Friday, the number of El Paso County residents who had returned their ballots has more than doubled from 68,134 to 179,578.

Between Oct. 27 and Friday, county election officials received ballots from 43,419 registered Democrats and 84,985 registered Republicans. Ballots handed in by unaffiliated voters - 48,101 - outnumber those submitted by Democrats.

Included in the number of ballots returned are those from county voters registered with the American Constitution, Green, Labor and Unity parties - which have also seen their numbers increase more than twofold in the past week.

Sprint to the finish

Clinton's ground game has been grinding for months about an economy that benefits every level, and the last weekend is a continuation of that, said her state campaign director, Emmy Ruiz.

"Over the remaining few days, we're not taking our foot off the gas in Colorado," Ruiz said. "We're going to be mobilizing and energizing Colorado voters with more urgency than ever before."

With the majority of Colorado's votes on the table, volunteers pulled out all stops to corral the holdouts this weekend.

Friday through Tuesday, Colorado Latinos Rise is directing volunteers and other like-minded organizations to go door to door to stir up voters for Clinton in Denver, Pueblo and Greeley, as well as Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties.

"For us, every day is important," said Lizeth Chacon, executive director of Colorado People's Action, which is part of the effort. "It would be a disservice to our community to just relax when we really need to push through and ensure everyone gets a fair chance to vote."

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