Colorado certainly seems like Obama Country. One in four Coloradans say they aren’t religious (much higher than the national average) and one in five are Latino. Colorado passed the nation’s first liberalized abortion law and has a disproportionate number of young professional workers — the kind of highly educated, predominately white voters who typically skew Democratic in elections. And sure enough, Obama carried the state with a margin of 9% in 2008, a performance he will need to repeat if he wants a solid majority of electoral-college votes in November.
However, Colorado isn’t looking like a sure thing for the Democrats right now, with the authoritative Real Clear Politics web-site calculating that President Obama only has an average 3% lead over likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney in recent statewide polls. That means if only one in 50 voters currently leaning toward the Democrats changes his or her mind, Republicans would carry the state this year. Obama’s thin lead in Colorado isn’t so surprising, because President Bush carried the state in 2000 and 2004, but it underscores the fact that Democrats can’t afford to make any mistakes in the Centennial State as election day approaches.
Against that backdrop, the Romney campaign’s continuous hammering away at “Obama defense cuts” could turn the electoral tide in a state which is home to hundreds of thousands of military personnel, dependents, veterans and employees of defense contractors. The cuts weren’t really Obama’s idea — they were mandated by the bipartisan Budget Control Act signed into law a year ago — but because the White House hasn’t made much effort to amend the sequestration provisions of the law, Republicans are getting a free ride on the issue. Romney’s fiscal arithmetic doesn’t add up, but at this point in the campaign it’s enough to promise fearful federal workers that any defense cuts mandated by the law would be reversed in a Republican administration.
It isn’t hard to see why the prospect of across-the-board defense cuts might trouble many Coloradans. A study released by the state office of economic development and trade last month found that five military bases in the state employ 73,139 military personnel, civil servants and contractors, contributing $6.9 billion to the state’s economy. The value of defense contracts awarded to companies in the state has increased every year since 2000, rising from $2.5 billion in that year to about $8 billion in 2011. Over the 11 years ending last year, Colorado-based companies received $61 billion in defense contracts.
This turns out to be only the tip of the federal iceberg in Colorado, because it doesn’t include disbursements for veterans or from civil agencies such as NASA. Colorado is ranked first in the nation in its concentration of aerospace workers, with companies like Ball Aerospace, Boeing and Northrop Grumman receiving over a billion dollars from NASA each year. The 4,000 Lockheed Martin space workers in the state are involved in military, civil and commercial space projects, and they in turn feed a complex of 400 small and medium-size aerospace contractors. Colorado is home to two dozen federal labs operated by the Air Force, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other agencies.
The way the Budget Control Act is written, all of these facilities will suffer significant impacts if sequestration is triggered on January 2 as currently mandated. The reason why is that the law targets discretionary spending, while excluding so-called mandatory spending such as Social Security and Medicare. Leeway is also provided to exempt military personnel from cuts, but the president can only exercise that option by increasing the reductions for other defense activities such as research spending at labs and procurement spending at contractors. So Colorado has a lot to lose if sequestration is triggered. The question for White House political advisors is whether the Romney campaign can get enough mileage out of that threat to convince one in 50 more Coloradans they don’t want to reelect President Obama.
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