Michael Barone

Colorado, where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains, has some claim to be on the leading edge of American politics. It produced antiwar, pro-environment Democrats like Sen. Gary Hart in the 1970s, Reaganite Republicans like Sen. Bill Armstrong even before Ronald Reagan won in 1980, Clintonesque Democrats like Gov. Roy Romer in the 1980s, and National Review's favorite Republican governor, Bill Owens, in the 1990s.

In this decade, a group of liberal multimillionaires -- Tim Gill, Rutt Bridges, Jared Polis and Pat Stryker -- developed "the Colorado model," not only funding candidates, but setting up think tanks, advocacy groups and public relations operations designed to oust Republicans and install Democrats.

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As Fred Barnes pointed out in The Weekly Standard last year, this Colorado model has been a brilliant success. Democrats captured both houses of the legislature and a Senate and House seat in 2004, the governorship in 2006 and a Senate and House seat in 2008. Colorado, which voted for George W. Bush by 8 points in 2000 and 5 points in 2004, voted for Barack Obama by 9 points in 2008. It was a fitting conclusion to a campaign in which Obama accepted his nomination in front of Greek columns in Denver's Invesco Field.

But now, Colorado seems to be going in the other direction. Gov. Bill Ritter, elected by 17 points in 2006 and seeking another term next year, is trailing former Republican Rep. Scott McInnis in the polls and runs only even against a little-known Republican state legislator. Michael Bennet, appointed by Ritter to fill Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's Senate seat, has a negative job rating and runs well under 50 percent against Republican opponents.

Barack Obama's job rating in the state has been conspicuously below his national average -- closer to those of still rock-ribbed Republican Rocky Mountain states than like the hip states of the Pacific Coast.

Campaigning, it turns out, is easier than governing. The Colorado model folks could target particular legislators, taking one out for her strident opposition to same-sex marriage, beating another with the support of horny-handed labor union operatives. Out of office, Ritter could gush with enthusiasm about alternative energy sources and Obama could eloquently promise hope and change.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM