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In Colorado, economy rebounds, but not support for Obama

A growing economy typically bodes well for a president seeking reelection, but despite a Denver-area housing boom and other promising indicators, Colorado voters remain torn between Obama and Romney.

September 12, 2012|By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times
  • Throughout Denver and its suburbs, the housing market is booming. Homes are being sold a day after they’re listed, prices are climbing, and contractors are scrambling to find the construction help they need.
Throughout Denver and its suburbs, the housing market is booming. Homes… (Matthew Staver, Bloomberg…)

GOLDEN, Colo. — A year ago, the view from Craig Knight's front porch was one of empty fields and the purple foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

Now, there are new homes across the street and down the block. The sound of hammers and drills punctuates the thin air morning, noon and night.

"They're selling them faster than they can build them," said Knight, nodding at the brand-new single-family house across the way. "They put 'Sold' signs up even before they pour the foundation."

Throughout Denver and its suburbs, the housing market is booming. Homes are being sold a day after they're listed, prices are climbing, and contractors are scrambling to find the construction help they need. Sales are up 18% from a year ago, and the average listing time is down by about a month, according to Metrolist, which provides housing data to real estate agents. Colorado ended the year with more money than it anticipated because tax receipts are were up.

That should be a good sign for President Obama in this swing state, which he visits Thursday. An improving economy usually benefits an incumbent.

But even in parts of Colorado where the economy is doing very well, voters are expressing disappointment and even disgust with Obama, with his challenger, Mitt Romney, and with Washington as a whole.

Sure, housing is booming, and restaurants and stores are full in Golden, said Knight, an independent voter from Jefferson County, one of two counties adjacent to the energy hub of Denver that is experiencing a real estate turnaround. But the sniping in Congress and on the campaign trail is making him want to give up on the political process altogether.

"If our area is doing well and the rest of the country is not, frankly, that doesn't excite me," said Knight, 54. "The politicians should get together and decide what's best for the country — but everything has gotten too political."

His views are not out of the ordinary, and probably contribute to Obama's narrow lead in a state he won by 9 percentage points in 2008, strategists say.

"There's a sense here that the recovery is on," said Floyd Ciruli, founder of a Denver-based polling firm. "But voters, to some extent, don't base their vote on local economic conditions, but rather what direction they feel the country is going in. And people here are anxious and disgusted with Washington."

There are many reasons the economy around Denver is doing so well, said Ron Throupe, a professor at the Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at the University of Denver. The mining and high-tech industries have brought jobs to town, putting pressure on a real estate market that didn't build much during the downturn. Young adults who moved in with their parents during the slow days of the recession are now moving out and looking for places to live. And there's suddenly a perception that the market has nowhere to go but up, making buyers scramble to lock in the best prices they can.

"It's really been this year that we've seen the market get really aggressive in a short time period," Throupe said.

That's evident at Solterra, the fastest-selling new-home community in Colorado, in Lakewood, a city in Jefferson County. Homes are going up quickly in the Tuscan-style development; the streets are crowded with construction trucks and workers' cars.

"Everywhere you look, five months ago it wasn't standing here," said Ryan Penn, a real estate agent who also lives in the development. "I see consumer confidence just soaring back."

That means good jobs for people such as Isaiah Romero, 21. A construction worker who turned to maintenance jobs during the recession, he's been busy since January. He and his team built five houses in Solterra in 90 days.

"Everyone's been waiting for this," he said. Romero, who voted for Obama in 2008, said he would probably do the same this year, in part because of the economic turnaround.

But Frank Martinez, who owns a concrete curb and paving company that is also benefiting from the activity at Solterra, said that although he voted for Obama four years ago, the new activity was all a matter of perspective. He's voting for Romney this time — if he votes at all.

"I used to have 80 projects before 2008; now I'm down to 20," he said. "This is not a lot."

Polls show the candidates neck and neck in the state, which has nine electoral votes. But Arapahoe and Jefferson counties will be decisive. Both went to President George W. Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008. In both counties, Republican voters narrowly outnumber Democrats and independents.

"Arapahoe and Jefferson are very much the typical suburban swing counties where a lot of political parties are targeting their resources," said Kyle Saunders, a political science professor at Colorado State University. "There are a large number of persuadable voters there."

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