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Mitt Romney in Colorado to energize lagging campaign

Amanda PaulsonThe Christian Science Monitor

Mitt Romney's campaign needs some good news.

The former Massachusetts governor returned home Tuesday from an overseas trip marred by several missteps and to the news that he appears to have lost ground in several key swing states, including Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

Taken as a whole, July was not Mr. Romney's month – and Romney may be thankful that it's a season when few Americans focus on the news.

But August is a new month and offers Romney several chances to energize his campaign. Sometime in the coming days or weeks, he'll announce his vice presidential pick, and he'll close the month with the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Romney is starting the month, however, in another swing state: Colorado.

On Thursday, he'll head first to the Denver suburbs, speaking at the Jeffco Fairgrounds in Golden, Colo., before heading west to more rural voters in Basalt, Colo.

The visit to suburban Denver "will be a new opening, a new direction" for Romney, says Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster, noting that until now Romney has focused his Colorado campaigning in the more conservative parts of the state, hoping to shore up support and energize his base.

The Denver suburbs in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties – which have been trending moderately Democratic in recent years – are where the swing voters live.

"That's where the battleground is," says Mr. Ciruli.

Colorado went for Barack Obama in 2008 by nine percentage points. Though it was considered solidly Republican before that, Colorado has been trending more liberal for years, and now has a Democratic governor and Democratic-controlled Senate. This year, the race is likely to be much closer, but Colorado seems to be trending slightly toward Mr. Obama. Though it has just nine electoral votes, it's a state that both Obama and Romney would like to win.

Obama, in fact, will be in the state just a week after Romney, visiting four Colorado cities in two days.

So far, Romney has focused his message in the state on his support for the hydrocarbon industry – and, of course, on the economy.

While Romney may have an edge with his economic message, political analysts say he needs to find a way to court the vote of suburban women – viewed as key by both camps.

"Obama will probably never win on the economy," says Ciruli, "but he can pick people off with narrowly focused issues, particularly for women. The Obama administration has rolled out an abortion issue here, and it raises a challenge [Romney] needs to be able to address."

Already, Obama's ads in the state (which he has also aired in other key swing states) angle hard for the women's vote.

One ad touts Obama's commitment to equal pay for women, and his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In another, Obama attacks Romney on his opposition to abortion rights.

"Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraception," a narrator in the ad states. "And Romney supports overturning Roe v. Wade. Romney backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even in case of rape and incest.” (The last claim is dubious, and the Romney campaign has taken issue with it.)

Those messages may hit fertile ground with the independent Colorado voters Romney needs if he has any hope of winning the state. In the 2010 US Senate race in Colorado, inability to reach independent women voters – and ads attacking him on social issues like abortion – was a major reason Republican Ken Buck lost to Democrat Michael Bennet.

The challenge for Romney will be winning over those swing voters while still holding onto his base, says Kyle Saunders, a political scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

"There are scenarios [in November] where Colorado will matter quite a bit," says Professor Saunders. Right now, he notes, Obama has the edge in the state, and there doesn't seem to be any momentum for either candidate to change that.

"Romney has to find something that sticks, whether it's the economic message, reaching out to Latinos, reaching out to women," says Saunders. "There are a lot of tacks [Romney] can take, but he also has to worry about his base. It's a tough row to hoe when you have to keep mobilizing the base, but also try to persuade those people in the middle who actually determine electoral outcomes."