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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — In an election year of hype and hyperbole, one fact resonates across all contests and candidates: in midterm elections, many people tune out and stay home, but older voters vote. It is a deeply rutted pattern in American history that could swing race after race.

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Matthew Staver for The New York Times
Joe Cassidy, 85, and his wife, Rachel, 73, are mostly on the sidelines this election but do plan to vote.
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Articles in this series will examine the political issues, voters and stakes in Larimer County, Colo., one swing county in a crucial swing state.

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Matthew Staver for The New York Times
Bill Benton, 79, says he is an Eisenhower Republican.
“We’re calling them, we’re mailing them — they’re getting a tremendous amount of attention,” said Walt Klein, a longtime political consultant in Colorado who is working for Ken Buck, the Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for the Senate.

But politicians like Mr. Buck, in focusing on significant issues for retirees like Social Security and Medicare, are also finding that the picture is more complicated than a simple calculation that gray hair equates to a certain position on issue X or Y.

Like voters of all age groups everywhere, older voters here in Larimer County, an increasingly crucial area for both parties in this tossup state, are pulled by crosscurrents just two weeks before the election. Their feelings range from despair and frustration over the country’s dysfunctional politics and economic malaise to a relative optimism for some about their adopted Colorado home.

Some retirees, like Karen and Tom Guter, have backed away from politics entirely, retreating from what they feel is an overheated era of extremes.

The Guters moved here from Maine in 2007 and got passionately involved in the 2008 election, as Democrats but also as wide-eyed transplants eager to take part in their new community. They volunteered for Barack Obama and for Betsy Markey, who became the first Democrat since 1973 to be elected to Congress from Colorado’s Fourth District, north of Denver.

This year’s election, by many measures, is even harder fought. The races for the Fourth District seat and for the Senate will help decide control of Congress.

Where are the Guters? They are still here, fit, healthy and active (they recently hiked through the Grand Canyon). But they have no appetite for the hurly-burly of the campaigns, or for the volunteering they did last time. They will vote, they say, but are not enamored with any of the candidates.

“We’re feeling some of the same frustration that a lot of voters are; the system can’t seem to find the middle ground,” said Mr. Guter, 59, a former human resources manager.

Tales like that of political burnout and withdrawal among older voters emerged over and over in dozens of recent interviews here. For candidates, that only makes the hunt for votes more intense as they seek to engage the thousands of retirees who have flocked to northern Colorado in recent years seeking sunny days and the beckoning Rockies at their doorstep.

The migration made Fort Collins, Larimer County’s largest city, one of the fastest-growing places in the nation in 2009. About 14,000 people came from another state, the Census Bureau reported — an injection totaling almost 5 percent of the county’s entire population.

Many retirees brought new political perspectives with them, shaped by contours far from the plains and mountains of the West, and have changed the complexion of this once solidly Republican county into something much less predictable.

Some say that a voter base that is neither quite Democrat nor Republican may be emerging, forged by give and take over Scrabble at the Fort Collins Senior Center or in the Newcomers Club.

In 2008, Mr. Obama became only the second Democratic presidential candidate to carry Colorado since 1964. But even in the midst of that Democratic surge, some local Republican candidates here in Larimer County, especially for the state legislature, continued to do well.

“Once I got out here my politics started evolving,” said John Spurgin, 63, a retired corporate lawyer who voted Republican for years while living in Houston but found himself drawn to the Democrats after arriving here three years ago. He plans to vote mostly for Democrats, including for Congress and governor.

“I think maybe it’s true,” he added. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

There are also new fracture lines here.

In the Republican Senate primary, Larimer went strongly for the Tea Party insurgent, Mr. Buck — a local figure, as district attorney in neighboring Weld County — over the establishment candidate. But on the Democratic side, that pattern was reversed, with Senator Michael Bennet, appointed to an open seat last year, soundly beating his upstart challenger.

Mr. Bennet and his allies, in television broadsides throughout September, said Mr. Buck would favor privatizing Social Security and cutting back Medicare. Mr. Buck has fired back, saying the health care overhaul passed by Congress is the real threat to the elderly.

The jousting and Mr. Bennet’s apparent popularity in a place where Ms. Markey must do well (Larimer County has about half the population of her district) has created an alignment to court older voters, with Ms. Markey playing up her alliances with Mr. Bennet. Republicans have an edge in party registration in the county with close to 36 percent of the total, compared with 28 percent for Democrats and 34 percent unaffiliated.

“Michael and Betsy are trying to save Social Security,” said Ben Marter, Ms. Markey’s spokesman.

Some voters say their heads are spinning.

Bill Benton, 79, a lifelong Colorado resident who described himself as an Eisenhower Republican, supports Mr. Buck and believes that his comments suggesting that the private sector could perhaps do a better job with Social Security were “just talk.” Mr. Buck has said that despite his comments, he would not support privatizing the retirement program.

“I like him, but he says some dumb things,” Mr. Benton said.

By contrast, Geri Raichel, 67, a retired teacher and school administrator from northern New Jersey, is deeply fearful. “I don’t even want to hear that name,” she said when asked about Mr. Buck. She is volunteering for Ms. Markey, who is in a tight race against Cory Gardner, a Republican state legislator.

Other retirees are sounding retreat.

Joe Cassidy, 85, a retired Army colonel who came here three years ago from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with his wife, Rachel, 73, said he felt a kind of despair about the country’s divisions. The Cassidys volunteered for Democrats in 2008 but are mostly on the sidelines this year, though they say they do intend to vote.

Other retirees say they are staying the course, full speed ahead. Viola and Norman Kuehl, former teachers who met as farm kids in South Dakota more than 60 years ago, brought their Republican votes and passions with them when they came here in 2008.

“Republican roots, from the farm,” said Mr. Kuehl, 85. “We plan to keep on going.”
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