DENVER — After sweeping Colorado voters off their feet en route to a rousing victory in 2008, President Obama is suddenly finding those same voters playing hard to get.
Polls show that, despite spending enough time at altitude to qualify for in-state tuition, the president has been stuck for months in a virtual dead heat with Republican Mitt Romney. A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday showed the presumptive GOP nominee actually leading the president in Colorado, 50 percent to 45 percent.
So Mr. Obama played his ace here Wednesday, kicking off a two-day swing through four Colorado cities with a rally trumpeting women’s health care. Speaking at the downtown Auraria Campus, Mr. Obama told a predominantly female crowd of about 3,000 that the 2012 election presents an especially stark choice for women.
“When it comes to a woman’s right to make her own health care choices, they want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century,” said Mr. Obama, speaking at a podium with the sign, “Women’s Health Security.” “And, Colorado, you’ve got to make sure it does not happen.”
The president was introduced by Sandra Fluke, the now-graduated Georgetown University law student who gained national attention after radio commentator Rush Limbaugh mockingly called her a “slut” for her advocacy on behalf of government-funded birth control.
“We must remember that we have a candidate, President Obama, who understands the importance of women getting access to the care they need when they need it,” Miss Fluke said. “And we must remember we have another candidate, Mr. Romney, who wants to take all of that away.”
The “war on women” strategy was an effective one for Colorado Democrats in 2010, helping Democratic Sen. Michael F. Bennet stave off a challenge from Republican Ken Buck in an otherwise strong GOP election year.
“Democrats have been arguing that there’s a ‘war against women’ in the Republican Party, and [Mr. Obama] wants to exploit that as much as possible,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.
What may have changed in Colorado since 2010 is the rise of conservative women’s voices.
Debbie Brown, a former state Republican campaign strategist, launched the Colorado Women’s Alliance last year in an effort to counter the prevailing view of what constitutes women’s issues.
Her group released on Tuesday the results of two focus group studies, conducted by Magellan Strategies, showing that Colorado women are more concerned about jobs and the economy than with government-paid contraception and abortion.
“I think a good job would cover $7 per month’s worth of birth control,” quipped Mrs. Brown after hearing the president’s speech.
She pointed to poll results indicating that the gender gap is smaller in Colorado than in other swing states. The Quinnipiac numbers released Wednesday showed a difference of 8 percentage points between male and female voters in Colorado, as opposed to a 14-point difference in Florida and a 23-point difference in Wisconsin.
“One thing our focus groups showed was that women are already feeling that government-controlled health care isn’t going to benefit them,” said Mrs. Brown. “Women are already feeling that the lines at the doctor’s office are getting longer, that costs are escalating, that their doctors are already leaving. Despite the large promises, women aren’t buying it.”
The Romney camp sent a high-powered cast of surrogates, led by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, on a six-stop Colorado bus tour Wednesday to counter the Obama message. Mr. Portman was joined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner and former Colorado Rep. Bob Beauprez.