Colorado Votes: Battlefield Colorado

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4min 52sec

If you’re a Colorado voter, you should probably feel pretty special right now. The presidential campaigns, and their allies, are busy spending buckets of money, all for you. If you’re still undecided, they’re spending millions to sway your vote. And if you have made your choice, they’re spending millions more to make sure you actually cast a ballot. As part of our election coverage, Colorado Votes, Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee reports on the massive ground game being played out in our state.

[The following is a transcript of Megan Verlee's report]

Find all of our Colorado Votes coverage here. (scroll down for past stories)

Reporter Megan Verlee: In August, Littleton resident and Obama campaign volunteer Laurie Ritchie got a big surprise; she won a free trip to the Democratic National Convention.

Laurie Ritchie, Obama volunteer: "Just walking down the street in Charlotte North Carolina, with 20, 30,000 Democrats around me? I thought I’d died and gone to heaven."

Reporter: And among those 30,000 Democrats, a lot were familiar with Ritchie’s home county. At least, a lot of the important ones were.

Ritchie: "Not only did President Obama know about Arapahoe County, so did Bill Clinton, who we met and spoke with at a party. Pretty much everyone we spoke to. I rode up the elevator with James Carville one evening, he certainly knows about Arapahoe County."

Reporter: Arapahoe County is on so many national lips because it’s among the handful of Colorado counties that could swing the state: counties with a lot of unaffiliated voters and a history of switching parties from election to election. Republican strategist Katy Atkinson says you can add Jefferson and Larimer Counties to that list too. And despite all those TV ads you’ve been seeing, Atkinson says this election will likely be won on the doorstep and over the phone, through individual, person-to-person voter contacts.

Katy Atkinson, Strategist: "Now that everybody’s kind of equals in the television wars, the ground games become more important, and the closer the race, the more important the ground game is."

Campaign worker: "Alright everyone, let’s just go over this real quick, I want to make sure everyone knows what’s going on with the walk packets..."

Reporter: On a recent Saturday morning, Democratic volunteers are picking up canvassing packets and sorting themselves into teams to walk neighborhoods in southern Jefferson County.

Worker: "...The three things we’re asking today are whether or not they’re planning to vote in the fall, whether or not they’re registered to vote, and then whether or not they’re planning to support our candidates."

Reporter: Both sides are counting on thousands of volunteers to fuel massive canvassing operations, phone banks, and voter registration drives. The GOP holds an overall registration edge in the state. But in the past month, Democrats signed up around 40,000 new voters, twice the number Republicans gained. Earlier this week, national Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt explained that registering voters is just the first step.

Ben LaBolt, Obama Spokesman: "We will now turn that same organization to a continual turnout operation that’ll be aggressive throughout the early voting window."

Reporter: How aggressive? LaBolt has some numbers up his sleeve.

LaBolt: "As another example of our strength and organization in the state, we’ve opened 62 offices in the state. And we’ll be opening several hundred staging locations for our get out the vote work over the next month."

Reporter: When it comes to offices, the Romney campaign lags behind, with only 14 in the state. University of Denver political scientist Peter Hanson says the Obama campaign proved its skills on the ground four years ago in Colorado. It’s the Romney operation that’s the question mark.

Peter Hanson, Professor: "And Republicans really have nowhere to go but up here. They’ve been a little behind the times in terms of taking advantage of what is now possible thanks to technology."

Reporter: That technology includes sophisticated data mining to find the most persuadable voters, and cel phone aps to help canvassers connect with them. Romney’s Colorado state manager James Garcia says things have come a long way since the last election four years ago. Romney volunteers have knocked on three times as many doors as McCain’s campaign had at this point, and made twice as many phone calls.

James Garcia, Romney State Manager: "It is the most robust victory operation that we’ve had in Colorado."

Reporter: That operation’s been helped by Mitt Romney’s strong performance in the first presidential debate last week. Garcia says he saw the impact starting immediately the next day.

Garcia: "We had more volunteers coming in that day than scheduled, both for phones and doors. That Saturday we had the single largest day for voter contact in the state that we’ve had to date."

Reporter: Garcia says volunteers are the only way the campaign can afford to operate its Get Out The Vote effort. Their enthusiasm’s been stoked by frequent visits. Not just from Romney himself, but by his running mate, his wife, even his sons, like this recent reception for younger voters in Arapahoe County with Josh Romney.

Josh Romney, Candidate's son: "I look at a group like this and there’s a lot of power in this room, a lot of people who can make a big difference in a very important state."

Reporter: With the election now less than a month away, both campaigns are hoping they’ve got the right foot soldiers in place to win the ground war.