updated 10/26/2006 12:46:51 PM ET 2006-10-26T16:46:51

Colorado could give Democrats a real Rocky Mountain high on Election Day.

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The governorship and three GOP-held House seats are within Democratic reach in the state that backed a Republican in the past three presidential elections and is home to military bases and the prominent religious conservative group Focus on the Family.

A confluence of growing voter unease with the Iraq war, President Bush's sagging poll numbers and Republican blunders and intraparty fighting have undercut the GOP - a reality Republicans acknowledge.

The wild west?
"The West is probably going to be a good battleground to watch and see if we're in a period of change," said Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez, who is running for governor.

It's Beauprez's seat in the Denver suburbs that Democrats consider one of their best chances of winning.

The largely blue-collar district is nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters. It narrowly went for Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

The two national parties have spent slightly more than $1 million apiece on the race.

2006 key races"People have had enough with the White House and Republican leadership in Congress," said Democrat Ed Perlmutter, a former Colorado state senator running against Republican Rick O'Donnell. "They've lost complete touch with the people of Colorado."

Battle over Iraq, Social Security, immigration
Perlmutter has a slight edge in recent polls for the open seat race, thanks in part to people like Robert Benallo, an unaffiliated voter and retired heavy machine operator.

Benallo is leaning toward voting for Perlmutter because he is worried his grandsons might be sent to fight in Iraq.

"I think the war in Iraq is a mistake," Benallo said. "This is personal."

O'Donnell, 36, acknowledges he faces an uphill battle partly because of his party. He is hoping his youthful looks and ideas translate into a fresh face that could change Washington. O'Donnell is a former director of the state Commission on Higher Education.

But O'Donnell also had to apologize early in the campaign for writing a paper 12 years ago calling for the government to "slay" Social Security. He has since enrolled his mother in Social Security and said he now thinks experts should start from scratch to overhaul the program.

But voters like Donald Abell still say they don't believe him.

"I just got Social Security. I have kids," said Abell, an independent voter and a disabled, stay-at-home dad. "I support Democrats because it's the philosophy of the Democratic Party to protect Social Security."

In the governor's race, Beauprez trails Bill Ritter, the former Denver district attorney, in a contest recently marked by a flap over a political ad claiming Ritter was soft on illegal immigration.

The FBI has launched an investigation into information in the ad, which Ritter's campaign said came from a restricted federal database. Known as the National Crime Information Center, the database is supposed to be limited to law-enforcement uses.

Beauprez said he had never heard of the NCIC even though he was one of several co-sponsors of an immigration bill that dealt in part with the database.

Democrats also are upbeat about their prospects in Colorado's 5th Congressional District, the conservative Colorado Springs-district that is home to Focus on the Family, the Air Force Academy and a large number of military retirees.

'Sleazy' campaigning
The party's candidate for the open seat is Jay Fawcett, an Air Force veteran. A recent Denver Post poll showed Fawcett and Republican Doug Lamborn in a dead heat.

Republican Rep. Joel Hefley held the seat for 20 years. The 71-year-old lawmaker decided to retire, setting off a fierce fight for the GOP nomination. Now, he may be partly responsible for Fawcett's good fortune.

After a bitter six-way primary this summer, Hefley announced he could not support Lamborn, who he said ran a "sleazy" campaign.

Lamborn, a state legislator, hasn't helped himself. Among other antics, he snapped at an audience member during a recent debate to "keep your mouth shut." After the video was posted on the Internet, Fawcett's campaign donations surged.

Republicans, including Hefley, have said they fear Lamborn's candidacy could make Republican voters in the district stay home. That could hurt Beauprez, the candidate for governor, and other Republicans running statewide. Republicans count on high turnout in the Colorado Springs area to balance out voters in Boulder and other Democratic strongholds.

Hefley even made a plea earlier this month for Republicans to vote, regardless.

"If there is a candidate you cannot support, leave it blank, but vote for the other Republicans in which you believe," he urged in a statement.

Lamborn's campaign maintains he is perfect for the district and says there is no reason for concern. Fawcett says he is building momentum, especially among veterans and disaffected Republicans who agree with Hefley about Lamborn.

"We need to get Congress back to doing its job," Fawcett said. "It's a matter of knowing the questions to ask. In my district, there's a lot of veterans. They understand."

Outside suburban Denver, the prospects for Democrats traditionally get dimmer. Yet Democrat Angie Paccione - a former basketball player from New York City who now is a state legislator from Fort Collins - has given Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave more trouble than expected in the rural district spanning eastern Colorado.

Paccione's campaign dubbed Musgrave "Special Interest Marilyn" and criticized the Republican for working for a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage instead of bills that would benefit farmers in her district.

Republicans have already spent $1.13 million in the race to help Musgrave, who narrowly won her second term in 2004 with 51 percent of the vote.

Democrats were prepared to spend more than $600,000 for Paccione, but they canceled their plans earlier this month.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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