President Obama will crisscross Colorado Wednesday, raising cash and speaking to the newest members of the Air Force in a state that has emerged as one of his top targets -- and arguably the toughest of all swing states -- in the 2012 presidential race.
Obama will travel to the Centennial State for the second time this month, where he'll employ the perks of incumbency to give the commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs before heading to a fundraiser in Denver.
Obama made inroads on the reliably Republican state in 2008 when he carried Colorado by nearly 9 percentage points, riding momentum from the Democratic National Convention in Denver to an easy victory there.
The president's campaign strategists are focused intently on Colorado, saying a win there would soften the blow of potential defeat in Ohio or Florida, states where a loss previously spelled disaster for any Democratic White House contender.
But memories of Obama's 2008 prime-time address before an adoring Denver audience packed into a football stadium have faded amid persistently high unemployment that has sent blue-collar voters rushing back to Republicans.
If anything, history is on the side of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, some analysts said.
"It doesn't get more purple than Colorado this year, but no Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt has won back-to-back presidential elections here," said Bob Loevy, a longtime political scientist at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. "Obama can't really run on his record in Colorado. He has to define Romney in a negative light -- right now, I'd favor Romney."
Colorado is more evenly divided between Republicans, Democrats and independents than any other state. Democrats control the governor's office and both U.S. Senate seats, but Republican presidential candidates typically do better. So both candidates and the super-PACs supporting them are already flooding the airwaves with attack ads.
Colorado is one of five states in which the Obama campaign is running ads about a steel company shuttered by Romney's former venture capital firm, Bain Capital, scoring a sizable payday for senior managers.
Obama is banking that a coalition of young people, wealthier white voters and minorities will offset what campaign aides acknowledge will be a decidedly tougher slog for the state's nine electoral votes than 2008. And some progressives said the Bain attacks would play well with the voters most skeptical of Obama's presidency.
"I'd be lying if I said Obama was for sure going to win the state again," said a top Democratic strategist in Colorado. "It won't be pretty, but Obama's path to victory is by dispelling this notion that Romney is some kind of economic wizard. I think the current focus [on Romney's history at Bain Capital] will largely define somebody who has failed to wow Colorado voters thus far."
Romney lost Colorado's Republican caucuses to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who benefited from the state's sizable contingent of conservatives, voters focused on social issues as well as the economy.
And social issues could play an outsized - and unpredictable role - in Colorado. Just before Obama publicly backed same-sex marriage, Colorado legislators killed civil-union legislation and both sides of the debate believe the issue could mobilize their voters in November.