Throughout our series First and Main, Morning Edition has been traveling this election season to America's Main Streets to contested counties in swing states to find out what is shaping voters choice for the White House.
Our series began in Florida, and then hotly contested county that includes Tampa. Then on to a county in Wisconsin which voted twice for George W. Bush, and then swung to Barack Obama.
Rene Montagne just spent a few days in Colorado, in Larimer County, which after a run of favoring Republican presidential candidates also switched to Barack Obama in 2008. This fall's presidential race in Colorado is a dead heat.
We arrived in Colorado on a late summer afternoon. In the distance, dark purple thunderheads were building up, rolling in over dry brown fields and, as we drove north from the Denver airport to Fort Collins, lightning flashed brilliantly in the rear-view mirror. Despite what looked to still be a fair amount of snow on the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, it's been a dry summer for Colorado, a summer marked by devastating wildfires and extreme temperatures. Almost everyone we talked to from people we met on the plane to our various interviewees seemed excited about the coming rain, which was clearly much anticipated and very welcome.
Even in a normal year one not marked by dry weather Colorado gets more than 300 days a year of sunshine. That plus the beautiful outdoor setting attracts outdoor enthusiasts and adventure-seekers. It's the healthiest state in an increasingly obese nation; it's also one of the youngest and one of the most highly educated. Additionally, the state has a rapidly growing Latino population as of the 2010 census, 20 percent of population is Latino, a number that's growing rapidly.
Fort Collins where our reporting took us is a college town. It's the home of Colorado State University, a school of about 26,000 students. The university sits adjacent to the older part of town and is bounded on one side by College Avenue, which is essentially the city's main drag. Just a few blocks off campus, shops and restaurants and bars line the street. It's a picturesque place so much so that the downtown served as the model for Disneyland's Main Street.
Fort Collins is also the seat of Larimer County, one of just a handful of swing counties in a hotly contested state. Colorado's nine electoral votes are up for grabs and in a state that is one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third unaffiliated, it's that unaffiliated vote that has the presidential candidates returning to the state again and again. Both President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited the state in August and, just last week, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan held a town hall meeting in the small rural community of Timnath, east of Fort Collins.
Historically, both Colorado and Larimer County have trended Republican but they're both becoming more purple in 2008, the county and the state voted for Obama. We met a number of people who are likely to vote for Obama again but there are others who are disappointed with how the last four years have gone. Both candidates will have another chance to persuade Colorado voters Wednesday evening when the first of the debates is held in Denver.