Colorado, where the candidates are tied, could become a Florida in the mountains

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The Independent US

Deborah Bond was under no illusions about the potential problems that lay ahead. "I don't expect to know who my president is come Wednesday," said Mrs Bond, an artist, stepping out of a supermarket in Boulder on a crisp autumn morning yesterday.

Deborah Bond was under no illusions about the potential problems that lay ahead. "I don't expect to know who my president is come Wednesday," said Mrs Bond, an artist, stepping out of a supermarket in Boulder on a crisp autumn morning yesterday.

"I think it is going to be a real mess. I voted for Gore in 2000 and I thought he was robbed. There were lots of dirty tricks - I think it is the same this time."

For students of the process of electoral meltdown, Colorado may be the place to be - a Florida in the mountains. With polls showing the two presidential candidates tied in the state, armies of lawyers are preparing to do battle if the vote is as close as seems likely. Adding to the potential for chaos is a separate initiative contained on the ballot which, if passed, would divide the state's nine electoral votes on a proportional basis, rather than the current winner-takes-all system.

It was never meant to be like this. President George Bush won the Rocky Mountain State by an easy 51-42 per cent margin in 2000 and for much of the campaign Republicans were expecting a similarly cushy ride. But the dynamics in Colorado, which Bill Clinton won in 1992, have been shifting and places such as Denver and Boulder, both a mile above sea level, have turned the state into a high altitude battleground. The Zogby tracking poll scored the contest 48-47 in favour of Mr Kerry yesterday.

"I am going to vote for Kerry," said John Anderson, walking along Boulder's pedestrianised Pearl Street on Thursday night, an area of bookshops, smart restaurants and brew-pubs. "I have to say one of the biggest issues for me has been the war, military issues, the way America has acted internationally."

But if Boulder is unashamedly liberal, places such as Colorado Springs are the opposite. Just 60 miles south of Denver, the city is a stronghold of fundamental Christians and conservatives. The group Focus on the Family, which has been sending out voter registration packs to evangelical churches across the US, is based there. The group recently organised a boycott of Proctor and Gamble products claiming the company supports gay marriage and "support the political agenda of the homosexual movement".

Meanwhile the pro-choice group Catholics for a Free Choice has accused the Most Rev Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Denver, of trying to influence the election by urging Catholics to vote only for candidates opposed to abortion and stem cell research.

Challenging the archdiocese's tax-exempt status, the group said: "Without mentioning anyone by name, the archdiocese has frequently equated a vote for certain candidates as sinful and even outright 'evil'." The Republicans are certainly fighting hard for the state of 4.3 million people. On Thursday, the President's father made a rare campaign appearance in Denver with his granddaughters Barbara and Jenna. The former president reportedly became emotional as he talked, at the rally, about his son's leadership in the days after the 9-11 attacks.

"In these uncertain times, our President has not faltered and he has not wavered and he does not feel sorry for himself," he said. "I am sick and tired of Kerry blaming everything on the President."

Adding to the political heat is the equally close battle for a vacant Senate seat in which Ken Salazar, the state's Democratic attorney general, is pitched against the Republican brewery titan Peter Coors.

Julie Brown, founder of Make Your Vote Count, said the effort to reform the electoral college was to try to counter the partisan fervour on display. If the initiative, amendment 36, passes, the state's votes will be divided proportionally. Had the system been in place in 2000 Al Gore would now be president.

The most recent polls suggest the measure will not pass. Initially there was widespread support and Democrats backed the initiative but as the polls have increasingly tightened, both parties are seeking to secure all nine votes. "The problem is that the state has become a battleground," Ms Brown told The Independent. "They cannot separate it from the party politics."



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