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Politics In Colorado Shift With Demographics


All right, one of the states Cokie mentioned there, Colorado. Our colleague Steve Inskeep has been meeting with voters there. It is the scene of an intense Senate race and the state also mirrors the way the nation is evolving.


We are driving through Colorado parallel to a snowcapped mountain range, the white peaks glistening in the sun. We're out here at the foot of it, though, out on the plains. Our destination is Platteville, Colorado, traditionally a farming community - also, a community that's changing. The fields around Platteville are dotted with oil drilling rigs and rocking pump jacks. Some have been here for decades, and now new ones are going in everywhere. It's a sign of the emerging future in this town of just 2,500 or so. We got a tour when we encountered three Platteville women out for their regular walk around town.

LUCY MONTOYA: We started walking - what was it about? - it's been about 20 years that I've been walking.

INSKEEP: Lucy Montoya is the woman who's been walking so many years. She's wearing a spectacular Costa Rican hat - a woven visor, really, all brim, and also wearing pink gardening gloves.

MONTOYA: And we walk in the middle of the street.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: But that's only Lucy who does that.

INSKEEP: It happened that all of us strolled to the street, hardly noticing the passing cars. The women have noticed the increase in oil drilling in recent years. They're mainly bothered by the oil industry trucks clogging the roads. This is a prosperous county, though it has had its problems. One of the women, Junita Johannes, says state budget cuts forced the schools in Platteville to be open just four days per week.

What are we looking at over here?

JUNITA JOHANNES: South Valley Middle School.

INSKEEP: So this is one of the schools that is only four days a week now?

JOHANNES: Yes, it is.

INSKEEP: Many of the students in Platteville are Latino. It's an increasingly diverse area, as Lucy Montoya knows. Her father came to Colorado from Mexico.

Is there a lot of Spanish spoken in town here?

MONTOYA: Mucho, mucho.

INSKEEP: Spanish speakers have been around this area for centuries since the land that is now Colorado was claimed by Spain. In recent years, new migrants have arrived - legally and illegally. They work in agriculture or the oil industry. They buy tortillas from the little tortilla factory on the edge of town.

It seemed like kind of a Spanish-style church on the street where we first met you by the museum and the library.

MONTOYA: Actually, it's the Catholic church, and it was originally built many, many years ago. Now, though, we have had such an influx of the Hispanic population that we went from having one English mass to then having a bilingual mass, and now we have one mass in English and one mass in Spanish every week.

INSKEEP: Colorado politics had been shifting with the demographics. The ladies' walk took them past Tio Juan's, or Uncle Juan's restaurant. Later, we met the owner who is actually not named Juan, but is named Jose. He was born in Mexico. He's a U.S. citizen now, favors immigration reform and says he votes for Democrats. Even among white voters in this conservative town, we easily found people who voted for President Obama. But all this does not mean the incumbent Democratic senator is sure to win reelection in Colorado on Tuesday.

So if I said the name Senator Mark Udall, what are some thoughts that come to mind?

JOHANNES: Are we trying to be nice now, ladies?

INSKEEP: Be honest.

JOHANNES: Oh, well, I honestly had trouble with all of them.

INSKEEP: Senator Udall and his Republican opponent have waged a relentless campaign. Outside groups have spent millions in this state. Each side has focused on tearing down the other's reputation and apparently succeeded. Yet in our group of women walking down the street, there is another sentiment.

And what about Cory Gardner, his opponent? Do you have any associations with him in your mind?

JOYCE RETHMANN: Well, I think he'd be good for - because he's out in the farm community, and he was raised on the farm. He would understand that part of it.

INSKEEP: Joyce Rethmann worries that farmers are not well understood in a state that's becoming more urban.

RETHMANN: Come on. We've got to have food, you know? Where does it come from? The farm communities.

INSKEEP: Colorado was once a red state politically. For a while, it seemed to be turning blue. Democrats captured the governorship and both Senate seats and even won in presidential election years. But this year's elections are extremely tight, and there remains Colorado's vivid connection to a not-so-distant, much more rural past.

MONTOYA: Here's the police.

RETHMANN: There's a policeman. He wonders what's going on.

INSKEEP: A police car pulls up alongside the women walking in the road. But the officer does not order them to the curb. He simply drives around. It's a small town.

GREENE: Our colleague Steve Inskeep walking with voters in Platteville, Colorado.

MONTOYA: Nice having you walk with us.

INSKEEP: You - when you're in Washington, you can call me and say you're ready for a walk.

RETHMANN: Oh, oh, and we can walk all over Washington.

MONTOYA: There you go.

JOHANNES: OK, we'll remember that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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