4:00am

Thu February 2, 2012
Politics

Race for GOP Nomination Heats up in Colorado

The battle over the GOP presidential nomination has shifted to the West with Nevada holding its caucuses Saturday and Colorado’s set for early next week. 

While presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney is planning to stump in Colorado starting this weekend, local attention this has been focused on the two underdogs in the race.  Texas Congressman Ron Paul campaigned along the Front Range Tuesday.  So did Rick Santorum, who returned again Wednesday when he picked up several key endorsements from prominent local Republicans.

Electability

It’s not every day that a candidate for national office drops by the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s club’s weekly breakfast.

“Please welcome Senator Santorum,” said an event organizer.

A beaming, energetic Rick Santorum bounced to the podium set up in a cordoned off side room of a Mexican restaurant in the Denver Tech Center.

“Good morning everyone,” shouted Santorum over thundering applause.

As any savvy campaigner would do in this part of the country, Santorum dressed casual, even sporting the token cowboy boots. He spoke for about a half hour touting his record and lambasting Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on everything from health care to character.

“You have someone in this race who will not be the issue in the race, you will not have to worry every day when you open up the paper, ‘oh what did he say today, what planet are we going to colonize next,’” Santorum said, which drew laughter from the audience.

Santorum said he’s the candidate that can unite the party – especially in important swing states like Colorado, and swing districts such as Arapahoe County. 

But Santorum also comes with political baggage of his own, which was brought up later during a brief Q and A by a man in the audience who didn’t give his name: “I hear all the time that a social conservative can’t win in a state like Colorado.”

Santorum quickly rebutted that his views on social issues like abortion or gay marriage are no different from Romney’s or Gingrich’s. 

Independent Streak

So-called wedge issues like those were widely to blame for deep fractures among Colorado Republicans in recent years which eventually led to big losses in statewide elections, most recently in 2010 when Ken Buck lost to Democratic Senator Michael Bennet in a year where Republicans took many national races. 

While Mitt Romney won Colorado’s 2008 Republican caucus, libertarian-leaning Ron Paul came in a close second. 

Paul told audiences at three well-attended Colorado rallies this week that the pundits shouldn’t count him out.

“They have no idea that people like you are out there and saying, one of the main reasons why you are interested in our campaign is because we do have a new foreign policy, one designed to protect this country but not be the policeman of the world,” Paul said during a rally on the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins.

That message has been resonating with younger voters, including CSU freshman Garrett Ire, who took a break from his studies to see the Texas Congressman in-person.

“Ron Paul is different,” Ire said. “He says the truth and he’s not afraid to do so, so I think that’s what I find the most inspiring about him.”

Paul was in and out of the state Tuesday, so was Rick Santorum, before sprinting back here Wednesday for four public appearances. 

Endorsements

It was on the campus of Colorado Christian University in Lakewood where Santorum picked up a list of endorsements from influential local Republicans, including Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, former Lt Governor Jane Norton, and former Congressman and one time gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo. 

“Right now, Governor Romney has 89 votes,” Tancredo said. “You need 1,140 when this thing is over with.”

Meantime, Governor Romney, who’s also planning a visit here next week, announced the endorsement of a Douglas County school board chairman and launched his first radio ad in the state yesterday. The ad includes former state GOP vice chairman Leondray Gholston. 

Coloradans who have felt removed from the blitz of mostly negative ads airing so far in other battleground states know the reprieve from 2010 is about to end.  Indeed, some voters like Lisa Spear say they stopped watching the GOP debates all together since they turned so negative.  A stay at home Mom who’s still undecided in the race, Spear came out to see Santorum in person Wednesday.  She came away thinking he’s electable.

“The way he ran in Pennsylvania, in a state that wasn’t necessarily friendly to a conservative, I think that he’s proven that he can win across a broad spectrum of voters,” Spear said.