2012’s Top Story: The “Tipping Point,” Well and Truly

Colorado Pols is recapping the top ten stories in Colorado politics from the 2012 election year.

As the New York Times’ poll guru Nate Silver explained just after the elections:

In the simulations we ran each day, we accounted for the range of possible outcomes in each state and then saw which states provided Mr. Obama with his easiest route to 270 electoral votes, the minimum winning number. The state that put Mr. Obama over the top to 270 electoral votes was the tipping-point state in that simulation.

Now that the actual returns are in, we don’t need the simulations or the forecast model. It turned out, in fact, that although the FiveThirtyEight model had a very strong night over all on Tuesday, it was wrong about the identity of the tipping-point state. Based on the polls, it appeared that Ohio was the state most likely to win Mr. Obama his 270th electoral vote. Instead, it was Colorado that provided him with his win – the same state that did so in 2008. [Pols emphasis]

So according to Silver’s initial analysis, Colorado, which the incumbent carried by just under five points, was the tipping-point state that gave President Barack Obama his Electoral College win. But there’s a little more to our state’s pivotal role we’d like our readers to consider.

As was the case going into the 2010 elections, pundits going into 2012 frequently cited Colorado as a state that, although President Obama won handily here in 2008, was very much “back in contention” due to a number of factors: Democratic and independent disillusionment with Obama’s first-term accomplishments, pent-up conservative angst after a rough recent history in this state for Republicans, and a healthy Mormon population to provide a natural base constituency for eventual GOP nominee (and always the institutional favorite) Mitt Romney.

Not only did Romney lose the GOP caucuses in Colorado to the laughably unelectable Rick Santorum, Romney’s entire campaign in Colorado came to symbolize what was wrong both with his campaign and the Republican Party in general today. Every lurch to the right from Romney to win “Tea Party” primary votes was carefully recorded and amplified by Democrats and their allies in Colorado, who never lost sight of Romney as their long-term target through the long GOP primary season. In addition, Romney’s campaign had a bizarrely, pre-emptively hostile relationship with the local press that we were never able to understand.

It’s difficult to enumerate just how many ways the Romney campaign made no sense in its misbegotten approach to winning the state of Colorado. This was especially clear from the earliest visits by the campaign to the state after securing the nomination. Instead of mounting a determined effort in the pivotal suburbs of Denver, Romney’s early campaign visits were to unpopulated places like Ft. Lupton, and remote Craig in the northwest corner of the state. Romney’s message was also hopelessly out of touch: in Craig, Romney’s claims that Obama was hurting the nearby coal industry were refuted by the city’s own mayor, who was happy to report that jobs and coal production were in fact on the rise.

When Romney announced his choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, Ryan was quickly dispatched to Colorado in the hope of improving the ticket’s showing in this state. But Ryan quickly backfired on the Romney campaign in Colorado after questions surfaced about the veracity of his claims to have climbed dozens of Colorado fourteeners opened a segue into much broader questions about his truthfulness. Ryan’s strident views on abortion were pounced on by Democrats and pro-choice advocates, driving home the Michael Bennet strategy.” Robust spending on Spanish language advertising not only wooed Spanish-speaking voters, but demonstrated the Obama campaign’s value for the Hispanic community as a whole.

Logistically as well as in the critical field campaign organization to turn out voters, Romney was never able to keep up with the Obama campaign’s massive and highly professionalized operation. Even though crowds overall were smaller this year than in 2008, Obama’s campaign events consistently drew larger and more enthusiastic audiences. The one major exception to this rule, Romney’s overflowing rally at iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, resulted in thousands upsettedly turned away due to wildly overbooking the venue–and hours of traffic jams as attendees and would-bes clogged nearby roads.

While Obama’s superbly-organized field campaign turned out Colorado voters, including a solid mail-in and early vote operation, Romney’s Colorado field effort on Election Day broke down as part of the nationwide ORCA fiasco, helping Democrats handily overcome a small GOP lead in the final early and mail-in ballot counts. In the end, the Democratic coordinated campaign worked seamlessly and effectively to get out the vote, up and down the ticket. As we saw in 2008 and fully keeping pace today, Democrats possess a level of campaign sophistication that has taken years to develop–and that Republicans are years away from equaling.

Certainly, the many scandals and gaffes that beset Romney on a national level had their effect in Colorado, and it’s also possible that Romney could have hypothetically won (or lost) in a few scenarios that didn’t include the state of Colorado’s nine electoral votes at all. But as it was, recently-blue Colorado was once again pivotal; and the failures on the ground, and in the earned media war unique to Colorado by Romney’s campaign, are a piece of the story of Republican losses in 2012 that both sides will study closely if they know what’s good for them.

13 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Aaron says:

    as more voted were counted, Nate updated his site with the information that Pennsylvania actually ended up being the tipping point state…


  2. harrydobyharrydoby says:

    Stop recruiting your candidates from Ringling Brothers.

  3. GalapagoLarryGalapagoLarry says:

    Just proved his cluelessness to the nth.

    Agriculture: Position?

    Environment: Position?

    Tech Future: Position?

    New Energy: Totally failed position.

    Old Energy: Totally failed understanding.

    I hope this (Pols’) local analysis is done the nation over in other fora, state by state.

    Stupid s.o.b. And that could have been our “leader of the free world”?

    Oh, well, there will arise another Repub. zombie to take his place. 2016: Wack-a-Pub time again. No rest for the wary.  

  4. Littletonian says:

    I love the way in which this diary was written. Solid writing. Easy to read. Sounds smart. Excellent use of language.

    Good on ya, Pols.

  5. JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

    Sitting here bored on New Years Eve, I just checked the CO and PA Secretaries of State. Obama won CO by 5.19% and PA by 5.4%. I don’t know if other states moved into this range as well, but that makes CO the closer of the two.

  6. Littletonian says:

    When Nate says “tipping point,” he doesn’t mean the state with the closest margin of victory (Florida). If you were to arrange the states by margin and count EVs beginning with the state skewed most toward Obama, you would surpass 270 EVs upon counting the votes from the tipping point state. Since Pennsylvania had a wider margin in favor of Obama, its EVs get counted before Colorado’s, and it’s the correct tipping point.

  7. Aaron says:

    Should have actually checked the numbers myself.

  8. JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

    From Nate Silver’s 2nd post:

    Mr. Obama’s margin in Colorado has expanded to 5.5 percentage points from 4.7 percentage points as more ballots have been counted, however. He now leads there by a wider margin than in Pennsylvania, where his margin is 5.0 percentage points. Neither state has certified its results, so the order could flip again, but if the results hold, then Pennsylvania, not Colorado, will have been the tipping-point state in the election.

    Since that November 23rd post, the order did indeed flip again. Obama won CO by 5.19%, but PA by the wider 5.4%. That would return them to the original positions on Silver’s chart here, and make CO the tipping point.

    I think this “tipping point” stuff was just the setup of this post, not the main point anyway, but this is worth clarifying since it looks like Silver himself never went back and looked at the final totals.

  9. JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

    I mean Silver’s chart here:


    In the original blog post from 11/8.

  10. GalapagoLarryGalapagoLarry says:

    Hmm, way back before the election, which clear-eyed Pol-ite predicted Obama would carry the state by 5.5 to 7? (ahem) O, ye of little faith.  :)

  11. GalapagoLarryGalapagoLarry says:

    The entire series includes the best I’ve seen on each subject.

  12. Littletonian says:

    Thanks for clarifying!

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