(WASHINGTON) — The presidential race in Colorado is close; so close that it’s statistically tied. In fact, it’s the closest contest in any state in the country.
As President Obama and Mitt Romney square off Wednesday night for their first debate in Denver, perhaps nowhere are the stakes higher than in a handful of counties just outside the auditorium’s doors.
According to a recent New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac poll, Obama is edging out Romney 48 percent to 45 percent, a statistical dead heat, among likely Colorado voters.
Those numbers reflect an almost evenly split electorate, with one-third of Colorado voters Republican, a third Democratic, and another third independent.
Colorado had been a historically Republican state, but changing demographics throughout the West, particularly a growing Latino populace, has made Colorado more Democratic, making it the most purple state in the country and an electoral toss-up.
Colorado is also one of the fastest growing states in the country. Most of that growth is among Latinos, many of them second or third-generation Americans already registered as a Democrats. But some of that growth is also among wealthy Republicans in counties like El Paso and Douglas, which have seen a population boom tied to the state’s growing energy and technology sectors.
According to Cenus data, the number of Latinos in Colorado has increased from 14 percent to 21 percent in the past decade.
If Obama can motivate them, they might be a large enough bloc to sway the election, said E. Scott Adler, a political science professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“Latinos do vote, but not at the same rates as white voters. Obama needs them to come out and vote. There was an opportunity for Romney to go after Latinos, but he has focused instead on more traditional Republican groups like Evangelicals and the tea party,” he said.
Obama is also putting his efforts into courting college-aged voters, a bloc instrumental in helping him win there in 2008. In recent weeks he has visited the college towns of Ft. Collins and Boulder.
“Latinos alone won’t give Obama the state,” said Adler, “that’s why you’re seeing him trying to get young people.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio