DENVER -- When the general election campaign began in earnest last spring, Colorado was among the swing states that looked most promising for President Obama.
As his strategists worried quietly about keeping blue-collar whites in places like Ohio and Iowa in his column, they took comfort from demographic shifts over the years that have put traditionally Republican-leaning Colorado in play.
But while both sides agree that Obama has a slight edge over Mitt Romney in this state where the two men will hold their first debate Wednesday night, Colorado appears -- for now, at least -- to be more competitive than many of the swing states that have recently moved more clearly in the president's direction.
Four years ago, Obama won Colorado by 9 percent over John McCain, but the incumbent currently leads Romney by just 3.1 percent in the RCP polling average.
Colorado's unemployment rate of 8.2 percent is slightly higher than the national average of 8.1 percent, but according to observers of state politics, there is no single reason why the president's advantage here is less strong than it is in those other battlegrounds.
Some say the Centennial State's shift to the left in 2008 may simply not have had the staying power Democrats hoped would be the case.
"The history of this state is very much Republican-leaning," said Colorado political strategist Eric Sondermann. "If it's purple, it's on the reddish side of purple, as opposed to the bluish side of purple."
Before 2008, Colorado had voted for only one Democratic presidential candidate since 1968 (Bill Clinton in 1992).
And as of the end of September, registered Republicans in the state outnumbered Democrats by 871,275 to 806,876 -- with 798,422 voters registered without a party.
"You're basically split evenly between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated, so it's hard to get any major margin," said a senior Colorado operative working for the Obama campaign. "2008 was a great year but a little bit of an anomaly. That lead really didn't blow open even here until after the Lehman Brothers collapse."
The Romney campaign says that its polling indicates Jefferson and Arapahoe counties --two key swing jurisdictions surrounding Denver -- are starting to break their way, but the former Massachusetts governor has spent a significant amount of time and effort shoring up his conservative base far from the state's capital.