Colorado GOP splits support among Romney, Santorum and Paul

The Colorado Statesman

At last, supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney believed last week, the Republican presidential candidate would get his due in Colorado.

Mitt Romney supporters, including Colorado AG John Suthers, center, cheer on stage as U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, delivers a speech on the presidential candidate’s behalf at the state Republican convention on April 14 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

Four years ago, during his first presidential run, Romney clobbered the competition in the state. He won the caucuses with 60 percent of a preference poll vote but then dropped out of the race two days later, and by the time Colorado Republicans picked national convention delegates, nearly all of them wound up supporting Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Republican state convention delegate John Peterson holds Newt Gingrich signs aloft while a speaker touts the Georgian’s presidential campaign.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

Then, in this year’s caucuses — moved ahead by a month in a bid to stand out in a crowded primary calendar — Romney fell short of expectations, losing the night’s preference poll by 10 points to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Finally, though, just days before Colorado Republicans were set to gather last week to pick Republican National Convention delegates, Santorum suspended his campaign, leaving Romney as the presumptive nominee.
But the guy just can’t catch a break in this state.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer speaks on behalf of presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who suspended his campaign days earlier, at the Colorado Republican convention on April 14.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

Outmaneuvered by Santorum backers — in league with a zealous cadre of highly organized supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul — Romney found himself holding the short end of the Colorado stick yet again. After three days of delegate selection, Romney could claim just 13 of the state’s 33 elected delegates. The remainder, a solid majority, were still standing with Santorum and Paul.

Former Colorado First Lady Frances Owens, Emma Keyser and Monica Owens prepare to take the stage along with other Mitt Romney supporters at DU’s Ritchie Center on April 14.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

The stunning results began to emerge as Republicans convened at congressional district conventions in Jefferson County and Denver last Thursday and Friday, when each district picked three delegates and three alternates. Romney rebounded somewhat by Saturday’s state convention at the University of Denver’s Ritchie Center, when he picked up two-thirds of the 12 RNC delegates at stake there, along with a share of the same number of alternates.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners executive director Dudley Brown and former state Sen. Bruce Cairns, R-Aurora, visit near a RMGO booth in the lobby at the state GOP convention.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

While the results exhibit a resoundingly conservative assembly of Republicans, even the most ardent Santorum supporters warned against reading too much into the delegate vote, suggesting that it exhibits Republican enthusiasm rather than a splintered party.

Paul Paradise, owner of Paradise Sales Firearms, a gun purveyor in Colorado Springs, and state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, take a break from examining resolutions proposed by the state Republican Party at the state assembly on April 14 at the University of Denver.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

“I view this more as a statement of support for Rick Santorum than anything negative against Mitt Romney,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, state delegate coordinator for the Santorum campaign, himself elected as an RNC delegate on Friday at his congressional district assembly. “I think folks here — I’m here, at least, positively talking about Rick Santorum. That’s my message.”

Republican National Committeewoman Lilly Nuñez and her husband, former state Rep. Joe Nuñez, savor her reelection to another term representing Colorado on the RNC.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

Conway said the alliance with Paul’s supporters developed late in the week, perhaps a reason the crack Romney crew never saw it coming.

“I went through that process on Tuesday afternoon” — in the hours after Santorum upended things by halting his campaign — “asking whether I should even come down here and run for national delegate.” After some reflection, he said, he determined to press on. “It truly was a grassroots campaign. The whole purpose of the unity slate was to bring the Paul people and the Santorum people together to ensure that we had representation at the national

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez visits with U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, before the two take the stage to promote the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney at the state GOP convention on April 14 at DU’s Ritchie Center in Denver.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

convention.”

The results out of Colorado’s conventions, Conway added, exhibit the power of the principles espoused by the two candidacies.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have,” he said. “It’s the message and the organization, and we had both.”

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner carries his 4-month-old son Thatcher as he accompanies his wife, Jaimie, and their daughter Alyson on the steps of DU’s Ritchie Center near the conclusion of the state GOP assembly on April 14 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

While the Santorum-Paul alliance had scored surprising upsets at congressional district assemblies the previous day, the battle for delegate slots proved tougher on Saturday.

State Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Durango, and his wife, Debbie, mingle with Republican delegates to the state assembly on April 14 at DU. Brown, a supporter of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, won election as a delegate to the RNC in Tampa.s
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

As Republicans began filing into the vast arena — normally used by DU’s hockey team — Paul and Santorum supporters were outraged to find a near duplicate of their “Conservative Unity Slate” endorsement roster that instead listed mostly delegate candidates who supported Romney. (State Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, a pledged Santorum delegate who was elected to the RNC at the previous day’s 5th Congressional District assembly, inexplicably found his name buried among the Romney backers.)

“This is clearly a dirty trick meant to confuse delegates,” said Paul supporter Eric Saling, who brandished both fliers side-by-side. Paul and Santorum supporters had been busy all morning finding the near-copies and writing “Fake” across them, he said, but he also expressed confidence that delegates would see through the bamboozlement. “Our supporters know what they believe, and they’re not going to fall for something like this.”

State Reps. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, and Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, assemble near the stage at the Colorado Republican convention on April 14 at DU’s Ritchie Center in Denver.
Photo by Ernest/The Colorado Statesman

Several Romney supporters disavowed any knowledge of the look-alike flier’s origins.

Still, those were just two of numerous fliers papering the hall’s seats, tables and nearly every available horizontal space, including slates organized by interests ranging from gun rights to pro-life delegates.

When it came time for representatives of the four presidential candidates — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is still campaigning, though his support at the Colorado convention appeared to be minimal — to address the crowd of some 5,000 delegates, alternates, candidates and activists, the arena shook with cheers and applause each time Paul’s name was mentioned. In a familiar antic, Paul supporters shouted out their candidate’s name at nearly every opportunity, including shouting over speakers when the occasion arose. Instead of the musical taunt “Hey, hey, goodbye,” for instance, Paul’s fans instead turned the chant to, “Hey, hey, Ron Paul!”

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer spoke on behalf of Santorum, reading a letter of gratitude from the candidate and urging supporters to continue pushing for delegate positions.

“We hope that you end up going to the convention in Tampa,” said Schaffer, adding, “Our goals and aspirations for that convention is unity.”

It wasn’t just about the candidates, Schaffer maintained.

“I would submit to you now that the strength and success of our party is going to be predicated on the strength and assertion of individuals in this room, that we understand what our Declaration of Independence says, and that we assert it is relevant today, and that we understand that this Constitution is worth caring with us, wherever we go, and that we assert that it be maintained,” he said to thunderous cheers.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune spoke at length about everything from military preparedness to specific health care policies in his remarks on behalf of Romney.

In addition to laying out a standard Republican message, he underlined that the GOP intends to unite behind the cause of defeating President Obama in the November election.

Every American, Thune said, should ask, “What would a second Obama term look like? Unconstrained by having to run for reelection, like he is this year — he’s walking back from some of the things he said and revising and reconstructing some of those statements. But I think we know what a second term would look like, because we know what a first term looked like,” he added, listing high unemployment, rising health care and education costs and staggering deficits. “We have got to turn the country around.”

Despite the heated contest for RNC delegate slots, state GOP vice chairman Don Ytterberg said he was confident the party was “wonderfully unified.”

Noting that he’s traveled to nearly every county in the state over the last year, he said, “While there may be some small differences between the things each of these groups wants to emphasize, I don’t think that any of them would want to emphasize the minority differences at the exclusion of trying to defeat President Obama.”
Like Conway, he cautioned against over-analyzing the RNC results.

Santorum supporters, Ytterberg noted, had only had a couple days to digest that their chosen candidate is no longer in the running, and Paul supporters are still supporting an active candidate who, theoretically at least, remains in contention for the nomination.

“This is the pinnacle of grassroots activity in American politics to go to a national convention,” he said, suggesting that activists are smart to form whatever coalitions they can to get a ticket to Tampa.

Republicans had already begun voting for RNC delegates by the time hundreds of contenders began filing across the stage, each granted 15 seconds to address the crowd. Observers calculated that if every one of the 859 announced delegate candidates took advantage of the opportunity, it would have consumed roughly three and a half hours. Plenty of hopefuls skipped the chance, however, and the parade only lasted something over an hour.

In order of votes received, RNC delegates picked at the state convention were: former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, state Rep. J. Paul Brown, all Romney delegates; state Sen. Kevin Grantham, officially an unpledged delegate; Paul Archer and Katie Witt, both Romney delegates; Dudley Brown, Keri Brehm and John England, all unpledged; and Monica Owens, Lori Horn and Deidre Harper, all signed up for Romney. (All four of the nominally unpledged delegates appeared on the Paul-Santorum slate.)

Delegates also awarded top line on the June primary ballot to Matt Arnold in the race for an at-large seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, handing him 1,893 votes to rival Brian Davidson’s 1,602 votes.

In addition, delegates voted another term for Republican National Committeewoman Lilly Nuñez and affirmed the selection of former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, as her male counterpart, the state’s next national committeeman. Kopp will take over for former State Treasurer Mark Hillman, who serves through the end of the year.

Along with state GOP chairman Ryan Call, the national committeeman and committeewoman constitute Colorado’s contingent of automatic delegates to the RNC, a sort of Republican equivalent to the more numerous Democratic “super-delegates.” To date, none of them have stated a preference in the presidential contest.
The official business nearly wrapped up, Call judged the state assembly a success.

“Today was terrific,” he said. “Everything was on time, we had a great level of participation. The fact that a lot of people stayed around to the very end to hear the results is exciting. Our party is taking some important steps forward as we move a little closer to that nomination, a little closer to Tampa, but most importantly, a little closer to defeating Barack Obama.”

Nearing the end of a long Saturday himself, Conway reflected on what his cohorts had accomplished and on what lay ahead.

He pointed out that there’s more to being a national delegate than simply casting a vote for the presidential nominee, though he emphasized that he’s a bound Santorum delegate and fully intends to vote for Santorum on the first ballot unless the candidate releases him. Santorum delegates were actively organizing to secure spots on the platform and rules committees with the intention of steering the GOP, he emphasized.

“As the senator said on Tuesday, the campaign may be suspended, but the battle continues.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com