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Colorado: Will frontier state call the election?

By Richard Quest, CNN
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Thu November 1, 2012
  • CNN's Richard Quest is in Colorado, a state that leans Republican but went for Obama in 2008
  • He is in the U.S. as part of American Quest, a series on the election airing from October 29
  • Quest talks to local pundits and get a sense of how the "undecided" will cast their votes
  • Quest: Colorado will go with the man they feel speaks to their frontier spirit and values

Editor's note: Watch Quest Means Business on CNN International, 1800pm GMT weekdays. Quest Means Business is presented by CNN's foremost international business correspondent Richard Quest. Follow him on Twitter. The American Quest is an eight-day journey across the U.S. You can watch the series from October 29.

Granby, Colorado (CNN) -- In my American Quest I am visiting states firmly for President Barack Obama (Illinois), those strongly for Mitt Romney (Utah) and some, like my next train stop, which can't make up their minds. Colorado, is one of these "undecided" states, which have become crucially important.

A look back shows Republicans won eight out of the last 10 presidential elections here, and in an interesting twist, Colorado also picked the election winner in eight of those 10 elections too. The exceptions of course were the Democrat victories of Bill Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008. In other words, Colorado stays Republican until it sees a Democrat it likes, and then that man wins the election.

With a large percentage of voters who classify themselves as independent, this year Colorado also has 6% of the electorate who say they are undecided -- the independents and the undecided will make the difference here.

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Behind these numbers is a state with changing demographics, bringing in new voters. Denver bristles with IT, media and healthcare industries, which have shifted parts of the state to the political center. There is the rising number of Latino voters, who could be crucial if they cast their ballot. And, of course, there are the traditional rural, ranching and agricultural communities that remain the stalwarts of the Republican backbone.

Expand: CNN's American Quest  Expand: CNN's American Quest
Expand: CNN's American Quest Expand: CNN's American Quest

So today Colorado is absolutely split. Of those who have expressed a preference, roughly 47% are going for each candidate and the rest are undecided. But here is the crucial point. Undecided does not mean apathetic. According to Patrick Brower, the former publisher of Granby's local paper, Colorado's 6% undecided will vote; they just haven't decided for whom.

When I tweeted this fact at the weekend (@richardquest) there was a barrage of tweets back. "How could anyone be undecided this close to the election?" was a common thread. After so much debate and discussion, surely everyone has made up their minds? Not here!

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On the C Lazy U ranch in Granby, I met one political commentator from the right, one from the left and one in the middle. And I immediately understood the predicament. Colorado is a frontier state; hardy, rugged, mountainous, with winters that are not for the faint hearted. But it is also a fair state, with a liberal tradition on social issues (a proposal to legalize marijuana is on the ballot paper this year). In 2008 they liked the idea of change, and gave Obama a 9% victory. Now that undecided element is in play again and there is confusion about which way it will move.

According to liberal columnist Felicia Muftic's research, "undecideds" eventually stay with the incumbent. Better the devil you know. Her conservative rival columnist William Hamilton told me exactly the opposite. He quoted research showing "undecideds" ultimately go with the challenger.

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I was none the wiser, until my political pundits had a rare moment of agreement. The undecided voters would choose on issues of character, and on how the candidates behaved. With no single hot-button issue here, Colorado will go with the man they feel speaks to their frontier spirit and values.

Which man is that? Ah, there you have me again, and that is because of the economy and the demographics. Colorado is changing and it is simply too close to call. What I can say is that we should keep a close watch on this state in the weeks ahead, especially as it bodes for the presidency. After all, on the last two occasions that elections saw the state go Democrat, the party failed to repeat the result four years later. In 1992 it didn't matter; Clinton won elsewhere. In 2012, Obama needs this state to ensure his second term

I must return to the train. The California Zephyr is almost boarding at Granby. It will take me 11 hours to reach Romney's safe, solid state: Utah, my next stop on this American Quest.

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