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Photos: Colorado Democrats push early vote (for Obama) on heels of high registration numbers

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Today is the first day that voters can cast their ballots in person as part of early voting in Colorado -- and the state's top Democratic officials set an example by voting in front of a bunch of cameras in Denver. The photo op underscores how important the ground game is for Obama in key swing states and how the Democrats, on the heels of national polls showing the presidential race tied among likely voters, must turn registrations into votes.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced record-breaking results of registration this season, which he attributed in part to his expensive ad campaign across the state encouraging people to sign up to vote.

But Gessler, a Republican, has continued to face criticisms that he is too focused on preventing fraud and intimidating voters along the way -- especially ones who won't be supporting Mitt Romney. Part of his response is that his office has helped register an unprecedented number of voters -- and in the final weeks before the deadline, more Democrats than Republicans.

Numbers sent to us last week from Gessler's office show that Democrats have outpaced Republicans in terms of new residents signing up to vote -- a fact that highlights just how important it is for the Obama campaign to get those supporters to vote in the coming weeks.

As we noted in our August feature on why Colorado is such an important battleground state, the largest chunk of registered voters fall in the "unaffiliated" category. But overall there is a pretty even split between Democrats, Republicans and the unaffiliated voters.

While the unaffiliated group still has the largest number of voters, followed by the Republicans, than the Democrats, the net growth in registrations over the last month has clearly favored Obama supporters.

Here's a chart sent to us from Gessler's office, outlining the changes since September.

From September 1 to October 9, a total of 21,307 residents newly registered as Republicans, while registrations for Democrats reached 39,497 -- about 18,000 more than GOP voters over that time period. Still, the 52,875 grand total of new unaffiliated registered voters is almost as high as the two parties combined, making it clear that category is still going to be crucial come election day.

The chart also shows that at each step of the way, Democrats continued to register more voters than Republicans. For example, from September 15 to October 1, the Secretary of State's office only logged 8,524 new Republican voters -- about half of what the Democrats logged during that time, with a net jump of 17,611 new voters.

Continue for commentary from the state's top Democratic officials and more photos of the Denver Elections Division. Getting these voters to the polls is a key part of the president's campaign strategy. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told FOX31 after those Colorado numbers came out, "Now our job is going to be to turn those registered voters into votes."

That's a message that came through today at the press conference, in which the Democratic politicians in attendance -- Governor John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Diana DeGette -- said that all the efforts for Obama now come down to who is actually going to vote.

"This is a president who is moving this country forward, and one that I believe brings a very clear choice on the ballot come November 6," Hancock said, standing in the park across the street from the City and County Building and the Denver Elections Division. "And so though we stand here ready to really talk about the virtues of President Barack Obama...and the work he has to continue to do to bring this nation back from the brink of economic depression, our more important and overriding message is, none of this matters if people don't vote. And we want folks to turn in their ballots, just as we're about to do across the street."

In their speeches, the politicians in attendance oscillated between encouraging residents to participate in the political process and actually vote and emphasizing why they think it's important that when they vote, they support Obama's re-election.

"If people don't vote, democracy won't work," Hickenlooper told reporters. "So we're out here to encourage everybody to vote. Obviously...I think we're all out here also to encourage people to vote for the president.... I don't think this country wants to go back to the same economic policies that caused this recession."

Bennet added, "It is great to be out here...to encourage everybody to cast their ballots, and cast their ballots early, whether they're Democrats or Republicans or independents. We want to show the rest of the country that in Colorado, we take seriously the right we have to vote, the obligation we have to vote. So get out there and vote."

And if any voters in Colorado are still undecided, they'll likely have several chances between now and election day to see the candidates in person. Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is attending a GOP debate watch party tonight in Grand Junction. Ryan and Romney will both rally at Red Rocks tomorrow, with musical support from Kid Rock and Rodney Atkins. And then, as part of a "two-day, non-stop 'America Forward! tour," Obama will hold a rally in Denver on Wednesday at City Park. Continue for more photos.

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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