12-03-2016  9:47 am      •     
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the opening session of the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. Once a swing state in presidential elections, Colorado has teetered on the brink of becoming solidly Democratic. Trump may have pushed it over the edge. Trump’s disparaging words about Mexicans, negative comments about women and weak campaign organization have punctuated the state’s shift from a nip-and-tuck battleground to one that’s Democratic-friendly. For the first time in more than 20 years, there are now more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (AP) — Once a swing state in presidential elections, Colorado has teetered on the brink of becoming solidly Democratic. Donald Trump may have pushed it over the edge.

Trump's disparaging words about Mexicans, negative comments about women and weak campaign organization have punctuated the state's shift from a nip-and-tuck battleground to one that's Democrat-friendly. For the first time in more than 20 years, there are now more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans.

"Trump is turning off as many key voter groups as we have in this state," said former state Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams. "I would have to believe Trump's having trouble."

And it's not just Colorado. Trump's inflammatory rhetoric and weak campaign structure could ensure that perennially competitive Nevada and New Mexico are out of reach as well.

That matters for Trump. He can't win the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency without capturing some states that favored Barack Obama in the last two elections.

The three Southwestern states — which have a combined 21 electoral votes — might have offered some hope. All backed Republican George W. Bush 12 years ago.

But Trump isn't making as much of a push for those states as is his likely Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. He made his first campaign appearance in Colorado just Friday, speaking at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver.

Clinton made her fifth trip on Wednesday, proposing college-loan deferment for graduates who start businesses. It was a tactical move aimed at swaying young voters, many of whom flocked to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who beat Clinton soundly in March's Colorado caucuses.

"Hillary has some ground to make up," said Craig Hughes, who ran Democratic President Barack Obama's winning 2012 Colorado campaign. "But compared to Trump, Hillary is in a far, far better place."

In Colorado, Clinton's campaign is spending $2.4 million on television advertising this month through Election Day, while a group that supports Clinton, Priorities USA, is spending $13.6 million, according to Kantar Media's campaign advertising tracker. In Nevada, Clinton is spending $2 million and Priorities USA is spending $10.4 million.

Neither Trump nor any super PACs supporting him have reserved advertising time in the two states. Super PACs are organizations that can spend unlimited funds on a candidate, but can't coordinate with the campaign.

The National Rifle Association's political arm is making small ad buys — $155,000 in Colorado and $98,000 in Nevada — to attack Clinton's handling of the attacks on diplomatic compounds in Libya while she was secretary of state.

Clinton has had staff in Nevada for more than a year, ahead of the state's early caucuses, and in Colorado for almost a year. Trump has a Colorado state campaign director and a Southwest regional director in Nevada.

If Colorado is a stretch for Trump, Nevada and New Mexico may be out of reach with their larger Hispanic populations and wider Democratic edge. The number of Hispanic voters has boomed in Nevada, more than doubling as a percentage of the state's voters since 1980, to an estimated 22 percent this year. In New Mexico, nearly half the population is Hispanic.

Trump has alienated Hispanics with his call to build a wall on the Mexican border, his plans to deport the roughly 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally and by characterizing some Mexican immigrants as drug smugglers and rapists.

Still, Nevada Republican strategist Ryan Erwin says Trump could salve the wounds were he to make the effort himself.

"As that population changes, it's harder for a Republican presidential candidate that isn't here all the time," said Erwin, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney's Nevada director.

But Trump is relying on the Republican National Committee for staffing, as he is in all competitive states, said Trump's Colorado director, Patrick Davis.

"There's only so much one presidential candidate can do," Davis said. "You've got to use all of the means of communication to get it done."

Trump's statements, late organizational start and Clinton's statewide organization have her Colorado director Emmy Ruiz cautiously optimistic.

"I think the odds are in our favor. But I don't think that they are strong odds. I also don't think they are high enough for us to sit back," Ruiz said.

Part of Clinton's tail wind: Democrats in April nosed ahead of Republicans in voter registration for the first time since 1994. Since 2012, Democratic voter registration in Colorado has grown 7.5 percent, compared to 5 percent for Republicans.

In Nevada, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 70,000, a gap that Democrats and Republicans say could top 120,000 by Election Day. It's a small but significant chunk of the state's 1.5 million voters.

"Unless and until Republicans can match the kind of funding Democrats have put into their voter registration here, Republicans are going to fall behind," said Erwin, the Republican strategist.

Last week, 18-year-old Kevin Garcia knocked on doors in 100-plus degree heat, registering Las Vegas residents to vote. He then attended a Clinton campaign calling session at a pizza restaurant.

Garcia, whose family emigrated from Mexico, was among about a dozen callers sipping cold Pepsis and using cellphones to call Nevadans. His goal was to make 100 calls that night — some in Spanish.

He said he supports Clinton because of her support for allowing people in the United States illegally to stay under certain circumstances. And because of Trump's rhetoric.

"And my whole family is naturalized," he said. "We're all citizens."
___
Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report from Washington.

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