Western Battleground States Crucial For Obama

Obama's path to victory must go through West, a Democratic pollster says.

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The new electoral battlegrounds are in the West, especially Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, says a senior Democratic strategist.

Pollster Cornell Belcher tells me that these states could be just as important as the traditional Midwestern battlegrounds of Ohio and Missouri in the presidential election. This is partly because their populations are growing, with a resulting increase in their electoral clout, and also because these Western states are now in play for both the Democrats and the Republicans.

President Obama plans to travel Wednesday to Colorado to address the commencement of the Air Force Academy.

[Read: Obama To Address Air Force Academy Commencement]

Belcher's analysis reflects recent comments by Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, that there is a "Western path" that Obama can use to win re-election, including the states that Belcher mentioned in addition to Arizona and Iowa.

He also disputed the Republicans' charge that President Obama has shunned compromise with congressional Republicans. Belcher, who polls for Obama, says it is the GOP legislators who have been intransigent. Belcher argues that Republican lawmakers have been pulled away from accommodation by backers of libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul and the Tea Party, "who are fundamentally opposed to compromise. They see it as a dirty word. But this is problematic in a diverse country founded on compromise."

Belcher sees the GOP as being eager to break up the coalition that elected President Obama in 2008, especially women, young people, and independents. In an effort to sour young people on Obama, for example, Republicans are arguing that unemployment is unacceptably high among new college graduates. Belcher concedes that, "Young voters are frustrated." But he adds: "They have not stopped liking President Obama. They still support the president and his policies but they are frustrated about Washington and the process [that causes gridlock and bitter partisanship]....We Democrats have to give that frustration a positive vehicle."

[Read: Romney is Winning Young Voters...For Obama]

Belcher says, "This is about a movement, and a movement doesn't end with one vote and one election." He says the Democrats should make the argument to Obama's 2008 supporters that, "The battle continues. You have a responsibility to continue the fight and see that through."

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" at usnews.com and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News digital weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.