DENVER (AP) — Barack Obama and Mitt Romney hope to win more than Colorado’s nine electoral votes Tuesday: Colorado is often cited as the demographic future of the country, and whichever party wins here can claim bragging rights to the political map for years to come.

Long a lock for Republicans in presidential races, Colorado became competitive in 2008 when Obama won it by nine points. The state is evenly split among Republicans, Democrats and independents and has become more socially liberal as educated coastal transplants have settled here. The growing Hispanic population has also sharply trended Democratic.

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“Colorado is really a microcosm of the new America,” said Jill Hanauer, a veteran Democratic strategist whose firm, Project New America, studies demographic trends. “We’re young and diverse. It’s really the new face of America.”

But as Obama revved up his re-election campaign, his model was not his 2008 Colorado blowout but the intense 2010 U.S. Senate race in which Democrat Michael Bennet narrowly edged tea party challenger Ken Buck by stressing women’s issues and immigration. Bennet won that race by 29,000 votes.

Obama hammered Romney on Romney’s call to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood and his desire to roll back the federal health care law. He was courting independent women voters in Denver’s suburbs, largely for abortion rights but fiscally conservative, who swing elections here.

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Romney countered by emphasizing the sour economy, which has been as bad here as in the rest of the nation. His campaign also focused on Colorado’s rural areas, hoping to drive up big margins in Republican-friendly territory to counter any Obama advantage in the cities and Denver suburbs.

Colorado’s importance was summed up in the 13 visits Obama paid it this year — the most trips to Colorado by any sitting president. Romney campaigned here numerous times. Despite the attention, polls showed Colorado among the most competitive of all the swing states.

More than 1.7 million Colorado voters had already cast ballots, and registered Republicans outperformed Democrats, cheering the Romney campaign. Democrats argued that gap would not be enough to counter a break toward the president by independents who back abortion rights and an influx of traditional Democratic groups who tend to vote on Election Day.

– By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Associated Press

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