After the polls closed in Colorado, marking the end of one of the nation's most intense swing-state battles, President Barack Obama was leading in two of the state's most critical swing counties.

In Jefferson County, Obama led GOP candidate Mitt Romney 50 to 47 percent with early and mail-in votes counted. More than 70 percent of voters in that county voted early or by mail.

And in Arapahoe County, with 75 percent of the votes counted, Obama led 52 to 46 percent.

Overall in Colorado, Obama was leading 51 to 48 percent with 1.3 million votes counted -- about half. In 2008, more than 2.4 million voted in this state.

A survey of 1,029 Colorado voters who cast ballots between Oct. 29 and Nov. 4 showed Romney had an 11-point lead over Obama with white voters and a seven-point lead with those making at least $100,000 per year.

Obama led among Latinos and those making under $50,000. Although many polls nationally predicted a significant gender gap, Colorado exit polls showed women and men split equally. As expected, those surveyed said the economy was the most important issue facing the country, followed by the federal budget deficit and health care, according to the poll by Edison Research for The Denver Post.

The poll showed Obama had lost ground with rural Colorado voters, and those election results were not included among the first released by the Secretary of State's Office.


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Romney's Colorado team, gathered at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, was "cautiously optimistic."

"People are saying, 'We can do better,'" said state GOP chairman Ryan Call. "And that's why Mitt Romney will carry Colorado and win the presidency."

House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican from Highlands Ranch, said election day turnout looked good for the GOP. He claimed long lines to vote in predominately Republican counties and sparsely visited polling places in Democratic ones -- but said he couldn't quantify that.

"I haven't seen this level of excitement and commitment from our GOP base," McNulty said.

McNulty also said Obama's turnout operation was not as well run as in 2008. "But they're still very good at what they do," he said. "It would be hard to match what they did in 2008. The president is now a human being."

Obama's team awaited results at the downtown Denver Sheraton, hoping the president's much ballyhooed ground game -- often credited for his win four years ago -- would live up to expectations. Obama staffers said lines were long in Arapahoe and Adams counties and they gave people rides to other voting centers that were less crowded.

In one of Colorado's most critical swing areas -- Arapahoe County -- voters were waiting in 90-minute lines at CentrePoint Plaza.

By 5 p.m., more than 2 million Colorado voters had cast ballots. Republicans had a two percentage-point lead over Democrats in the number of ballots cast, which is identical to the edge registered GOP voters have over Democrats. With one-third of all voters registered as unaffiliated, the election - as typical in Colorado - hinges on them. About 29 percent had cast their votes by noon.

Just days from the election, a Denver Post poll showed Romney trailing Obama by two percentage points -- within the poll's margin-of-error.

Romney's Colorado team put the decisive moment of the race for Colorado on Oct. 3, inside a converted sports arena at the University of Denver. There, Romney is widely credited with trouncing Obama in the opening presidential debate and giving new lift to his campaign. Wadhams called the debate "a game-changer."

Obama's Colorado team was banking on freshly registered voters in this state.

Democrats have a major advantage among the voters registered from July to October. Just 15 percent are white men older than 35, who lean Republican. The rest of new voters were women, under 35, African-American or Latino.

Obama's Colorado campaign worked hard on messaging to suburban Republican and independent women, hitting hard on health care reform legislation that includes free coverage for mammograms and contraception. They also heavily touted Romney's position on abortion.

"Obama has a great chance because women, Hispanics and younger voters are supporting him. That was the coalition that put him over the top in 2008," said Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat. "The signs are today that the coalition is still strong."

Colorado State University political scientist Kyle Saunders said Romney did too little to reach out to women and Hispanic voters. Though the campaign held rallies seeking to court those constituencies, it never crafted policies that appealed to them. And Saunders pointed to Romney's comments during the second presidential debate -- when he said he relied on "binders full of women" to find qualified women to work in his administration as governor of Massachusetts -- as an example that the campaign was "a little bit tone deaf on women's issues."

As a consequence, polls heading into Election Day showed Romney losing among women and Latinos.

"That's exactly the kind of thing, whether it's the gender gap or the Latino gap, that could put Obama over the top," Saunders said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, heard about the long lines in Arapahoe County and went to two polling places about 4:30 p.m., chatting with people and urging them to hang in there, spokesman Eric Brown said.

Hickenlooper also talked to Arapahoe County Clerk Nancy Doty, a Republican, and asked her to move election judges around to ease the waits for people. "He asked her to pull out all the stops," Brown said.

Hickenlooper was expected at the Democratic headquarters at 9:45 p.m.

Jennifer Brown: 303-954-1593, jenbrown@denverpost.com or twitter.com/jbrowndpost

Staff writers Jennifer Brown, Karen Crummy and Chuck Murphy contributed to this report.