FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The college vote is up for grabs this year — to an extent that would have seemed unlikely two years ago, when a generation of young people seemed to swoon over Barack Obama.
Although many students are liberals on social issues, the economic reality of a weak job market has taken a toll on their loyalties: Far fewer 18- to 29-year-olds now identify themselves as Democrats compared with 2008.
How and whether millions of college students vote will help determine if Republicans win enough seats to retake the House or Senate, overturning the balance of power on Capitol Hill and, with it, Obama’s agenda. If students tune out and stay home it will also carry a profound message for U.S. society about a generation that seemed so ready, so recently, to grab national politics by the lapels and shake.
All those questions are in play here in Larimer County, about an hour north of Denver, for the more than 25,000 students at Colorado State University.
Larimer, like much of Colorado, was once solidly Republican but went Democratic in the past few elections and is now contested by both sides. It is seen as a signal beacon for an increasingly unpredictable state.
Because the university draws about 80 percent of its enrollment from within Colorado, it is also a sort of mirror within a mirror for Colorado’s political culture. Moderate and conservative views are common; a campus monoculture of liberalism is not.
Larimer is the focal point for a nationally watched House race in Colorado’s Fourth District, where Betsy Markey, a Democrat, is fighting for a second term, against a Republican challenger, Cory Gardner.
Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat appointed last year to fill a vacant seat, is also in a toss-up contest against a Republican candidate, Ken Buck, the Weld County district attorney in Greeley, 20 miles southeast of Fort Collins.