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Colorado County Gains Political Power As Accurate Presidential Prognosticator

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now, let's visit a battleground area - a place both political parties fight to win. We're traveling to several, including Jefferson County, Colo. It's west of Denver. It voted twice for President Obama and twice for President Bush. And more women vote there than men. Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus met some of them.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: The women who make up the Belmar Block 7 Arts District are well aware of their political power. At their monthly get-together, Melissa Behr, a fine art painter, says, for the politically inclined, it's nice to live in a swing state.

MELISSA BEHR: I can actually, like, say something, so it does kind of make a difference. Although I try to, like, sabotage my husband so he can't get to the polls, but...

MARKUS: Politically divided households are not uncommon in Jefferson County, which derives its bellwether status from the narrow split between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated. Behr, a Democrat, says it's not so bad living with her businessman, Republican husband.

BEHR: Well, as an artist, it helps if someone in the family makes money.

(LAUGHTER)

MARKUS: If there's a secret sauce of political politeness here, it's that these women can identify with each other beyond politics. Things like motherhood and art connect them. That prompts Anne Van Leeuwen, a painter and a Democrat, to pose a frustrated question.

ANNE VAN LEEUWEN: I'd like to ask everyone here, wouldn't we agree that this paralysis of the Senate and the Congress is just horrible?

BEHR: I wonder if there needs to be reform there - just the way it's set up.

MARKUS: There are approving head nods from around the room, including from Lori Mastroni, who refurbishes old furniture. She's a Republican.

LORI MASTRONI: I just want politics to just, like, chill out and people to get along. And I'm so - I can't stand the TV and the news. And I'm just so over it. It's the bickering and the calling each other out constantly.

MARKUS: But the dichotomy here is that, depending on their political persuasion, the women in this group want different things out of this election. Like, Mastroni says Obamacare has been a disaster, but not so, says Carrie McKenna, a sculptor and painter and a Democrat. She applauds the work on women's issues, and she wants more, especially when it comes to the pay disparity between men and women.

CARRIE MCKENNA: What - have we already been working on this for 30 years? What the heck is going on here that we're still talking about pay equality?

MARKUS: That resonates with Pat Pendleton, who's hosting this meeting in her cozy art gallery. The Democrat argues for a strong government. Without it, she says, there wouldn't be programs she needs, like Social Security and Medicare. And she wants something done about the $50,000-a-year college tuition that her grandson endures.

PAT PENDLETON: He is studying 40 hours a week and working 40 hours a week. That's tough. And I don't think - I don't know when it happened or why it happened, but to cost that much to go to college is immoral.

MARKUS: And that has her worrying about the future of the middle class. But Penny Oliver, a Republican who runs another art studio, flips that around. She argues that government is actually killing good jobs.

PENNY OLIVER: I'd like to see somebody be able to stop regulation, stop putting, you know, businesses under new red tape.

MARKUS: She counts herself in the upper-middle class and is proud of the charity and jobs that she and her husband provide. If this tiny but important slice of the electorate is aligned on anything, it's that the presumptive presidential candidates are not an inspiring lot. Oliver points to one of the Democrats in the group.

OLIVER: She wasn't for Hillary in the first place. I wasn't for Trump in the first place. You know, we're kind of forced at this point to pick the worst of, you know, however many evils.

MARKUS: For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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