Colorado Key Battleground in Tuesday's Primaries

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Voters in four states head to the polls Tuesday, to determine who will run for their parties in this Fall's mid-term elections.

Republicans need to win 39 seats in November to win control of the House. Some believe two to three of those seats could come from Colorado - the key battleground state.

Things in Denver are a lot calmer than they were two years ago when it hosted the Democratic National Convention where President Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination.

"It's is a far cry from that heady night at Invesco Field in August 2008. Colorado has dramatically changed, but it's not that uncommon," Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams said.

The Centennial State is the quintessential swing state. About a third of its registered voters are unaffiliated with either party, making it neither firmly red or blue, but rather, best described as purple and a presidential battleground.

'If you look over 20 years of voting statistics, the state actually is 50.1 percent Democratic. You can't get a balance much closer than that," Colorado college professor Bob Loevy said.

Colorado Democrats have fought hard to make gains in this state. They now control every level of government, from the governor's mansion to the state house. They even helped to elect a Democrat to the White House.

Their sweep began six years ago when the balance of power was held by the Republicans. Now, some political observers believe the tides are shifting once again, giving a political advantage to the Republicans.

For that, political operatives credit a phenomenon that's been making waves nationwide.

"There are Tea Party 9/12 groups across our state, and I think they're one of the reasons why we stand poised to do well in 2010," Wadhams said.

With a sluggish economy, Colorado foreclosures are among the top ten in the country. And with a budget crisis that has meant cuts in education, and even turning off city street lights at night, Democrats know they've got an uphill fight.

"I think the biggest challenge for us this year is to make sure people understand what we've done and what we still can do," Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Pat Waak said.

Wadhams has been mapping a strategy for Republicans to turn Colorado red. Nationally, Republicans have been eyeing Colorado, too. The state is seen as key to winning back the Senate majority, as the Republicans zero in on a vulnerable Democratic incumbent.

For months, Michael Bennet, appointed by the governor to replace Ken Salazar (now Obama's Interior Secretary), has been squaring off against a challenger from his own party: former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff.

The two have been locked in a fight that has President Obama supporting one candidate and former President Bill Clinton backing the other - reminiscent of the party split in 2008.

"That makes us a little nervous having a primary because we got to bring back the party together afterwards. But we have two really good people running for the U.S. Senate," Waak said.

Heading into Tuesday's primary vote, Republican District Attorney Ken Buck maintained an edge over former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. Norton has the backing of the party establishment, while Buck's won over Tea Party activists.

Though it's a Mountain West state, there are no "mama grizzlies" here, but the midterm does feature two targets in Sarah Palin's 2010 crosshairs. Palin identified John Salazar and Betsy Markey as incumbents who should be given the boot for voting in favor of the health care reform law.

Wadhams believes his Republican candidates can knock off Salazar, Markey, and Ed Perlmutter, because issues like the ballooning federal deficit have kept Colorado Republicans energized for months.

"If that holds up, we're going to have a great year in Colorado," Wadhams said.

In the governor's race, the winner of the Republican primary will take on Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Polls show Hickenlooper poised to do well after the last-minute third party entrance of fiery former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo.

Pundits say Tancredo's bid will likely split the Republican vote and hurt the party's chances of taking back the governor's mansion come November. Democrats think his hard line anti-immigration stance will drive Hispanics to them. Hispanics make up about 20 percent of the population.

Despite being better funded, Democrats know they still face serious challenges this fall.

"We've never taken anything for granted because we're not a blue state until our registered voters outnumber both unaffiliated and Republicans combined," Waak said.

Loevy has been watching Colorado politics for more than 40 years. He said the race will boil down to unaffiliated voters and moderate Republicans.

"I have my eye on these old Republican suburbanites. The shift to the Democrats in 2008 was very dramatic. If they stay with the Democrats, Colorado will remain a Democratic state," Loevy said.

But if those voters move to the Republicans, as some expect, it will make Colorado an even more coveted presidential battleground in 2012.

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