Colorado is a tightly-contested swing state. According to the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls, Republican challenger Mitt Romney holds a vanishingly narrow lead over President Obama of 47.9% to 47.7%. In a national election that appears to be growing tighter in the final weeks, Colorado could end up deciding who wins.
It is also a state where there are two reasons marijuana is at play as a political issue. Most significantly, it is the site of the Amendment 64 Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol legalization campaign, which maintains a shrinking lead in recent polls, and which has generated reams of media coverage in recent weeks. But it is also one of the medical marijuana states that have seen their dispensary systems threatened by heavy-handed federal interventions, which has generated ill-feeling toward the Obama administration in some quarters.
And it is a state where Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of neighboring New Mexico, is making a strong push, with marijuana legalization and marijuana policy as one of his strongest talking points. Johnson isn’t included in those polls mentioned above, but when pollsters do bother to include him, as Public Policy Polling did last month and Politico did this month, he’s bringing in about 5% of the vote — and he takes three votes away from Obama for every two he takes from Romney.
Democrats may have been hoping that turnout by supporters of marijuana legalization would help them cruise to victory in Colorado, but Johnson is doing his best to separate those voters from the Democrats who hope to own them. Johnson has been stumping feverishly on legalization, and his campaign has smartly used all the attention paid to the initiative to generate attention for his position and his candidacy.
Now, as David Sirota points out in an excellent analysis of pot and presidential politics in Colorado in Salon, things have escalated, with pro-Johnson robo-calls ads identified with the Utah-based libertarian think tank the Libertas Institute going out to Democratic voters with a message that should be chilling for Democrats:
“Hello, fellow Democrat,” a friendly male voice says. “Like you I was thrilled to vote for Barack Obama in 2008. In 2008, candidate Obama promised not to use the Justice Department to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it was legal. But the real Obama did just that, more than doubling prosecutions, putting people in prisons and shutting down medical marijuana facilities in Colorado. That’s not the change you wanted on health freedom. But you can still be a force for hope and change by voting for Gary Johnson.”
Could Gary Johnson peel off enough voters disenchanted with the Obama administration’s medical marijuana stance and motivated by a chance to vote for marijuana legalization to throw the state, and just possibly, the national election, to Romney? We will know in less than three weeks.