After new poll: Is Obama losing his touch with Colorado voters?

President Obama is trailing Mitt Romney in Colorado by five percentage points in a new poll, after Mr. Obama won the state in 2008. The president is in the midst of a two-day swing through the state.

Jason Reed/Reuters
President Barack Obama is pictured at an election campaign rally at the Auraria Event Center in Denver, Colorado, on August 8.

As President Obama launched a two-day swing through Colorado on Wednesday, his campaign got some unwelcome news.

A new swing states poll by Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News has Mr. Obama trailing Mitt Romney by five percentage points in Colorado. Yet this is the state that voted for Obama by nearly nine points in 2008 and that earlier polls have indicated favors him again this year.

Is Obama losing his touch with Colorado voters? Not necessarily. Taken together with other polls from the past few days, the results are all over the place. One, from Public Policy Polling, has Obama up by six points, and a Rasmussen poll has Obama and Mr. Romney in a dead heat.

"It all comes down to which polling firm has adequately captured who shows up at the polls three months from now," says Kyle Saunders, a political scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, noting that the demographic models vary considerably from poll to poll.

But there are still some troubling signs for Obama – particularly in how much softer his support seems to be compared with Romney. And his campaign hopes to address some of those concerns with this two-day tour, in which Obama is visiting Denver, Grand Junction, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs.

When he addressed a Denver audience Wednesday afternoon, Obama focused heavily on women's issues. He spoke next to a sign labeled "women's health security" and was introduced by Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who became the face of reproductive rights earlier this year after Rush Limbaugh labeled her a "slut" and she was barred from testifying before one congressional panel about why she believed insurance companies should cover contraception.

"When it comes to a woman's right to make her own health-care choices, [Republicans] want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century," Obama told a cheering crowd in Denver.

In targeting women voters, particularly on reproductive-rights issues, Obama "seems to be following the playbook of the Bennet senatorial campaign two years ago, which was somewhat successful in portraying [Bennet's] opponents as having problems with women voters," says Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, referring to the 2010 election in which Democrat Michael Bennet beat Ken Buck, the conservative Republican candidate.

Obama's ads in the state have also sought to portray Romney as being on the wrong side of key women's issues, opposing Planned Parenthood and abortion rights. Another ad touts Obama's commitment to equal pay for women, seen in his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

"These sorts of things are going to force Romney to play defense," says Professor Saunders.

Obama has been the beneficiary of a gender gap in the state, and it seems to be continuing. In the Quinnipiac/NNYT/CBS poll, women voters in Colorado favored Obama 51 to 43 percent.

While Colorado offers the victor only nine electoral votes, it may well be a key state in the election, depending on how the other swing states, like Ohio and Florida, go. Colorado's demographic shifts have moved it steadily to the left in the past decade, but – as the recent polls show – it's still solidly a purple state.

The Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll has garnered a fair amount of attention since it shows Obama faring much worse than expected, but compared with 2008 exit polls, Saunders notes, it seems to undersample both younger voters (under the age of 45) and Latino voters – which the pollsters may have had a good reason in doing, but which also probably explains the disparity in poll results.

More troubling for Obama is what the poll indicates about how committed voters are. Just 4 percent were undecided, but of those who say they plan to vote for Obama, 11 percent say they could change their minds before November. That number was just 6 percent for Romney supporters.

"That's a big difference and could really matter at the margins," says Saunders.

As Obama leaves Denver for more outlying areas – Grand Junction in conservative western Colorado, and Pueblo and Colorado Springs to the south – he is expected to add wind energy to the themes he emphasizes. He supports renewing federal tax credits for wind energy, which have significant support from both parties in the state.

Romney opposes doing so. While it's not as crucial an issue as the economy, it's an area where Romney is somewhat vulnerable in Colorado, says Professor Masket.

"Wind is an important industry in this state. It employs a lot of different people across different parts of the state, and it's an industry that will be strongly affected by whoever will be president next year," he says. "There's a lot at stake."

Still, Masket expects that the election in Colorado is ultimately going to come down to the ground game, as well as which campaign is better at getting voters to the polls.

Both campaigns, he notes, are aggressively building up field offices right now and going door to door. In the end, he says, turnout "is more likely to make a difference than any sort of ads or debate performance."

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