BOULDER, Colo. — Now that the GOP presidential race has moved West, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are stumping ahead of Tuesday’s caucuses. Mitt Romney is set to arrive after the Nevada primary on Saturday. Newt Gingrich’s campaign has not mentioned any dates for the former House speaker’s arrival.
Colorado is a state that Romney won with 60 percent of the caucus vote in 2008, but President Barack Obama won in the general election that year. In 2010, the tea party surged here, toppling two incumbent Democratic congressmen. But their chosen candidate for the U.S. Senate, Ken Buck, lost a narrow contest.
And the gubernatorial nominee originally favored by many of the newcomers turned out to be a disaster, allowing Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) to easily move up the hill to the governor’s office.
To find out what Republicans here are thinking — and in particular, why they’ve chosen the candidates they have, I sat down with four Colorado conservatives to hear how they made their choices.
Lynne Cottrell, 71, is a former chairwoman of the Arapahoe County Republicans and lives in Aurora. She indicated she’s supporting Romney for three reasons: electability, electability, electability.
“I feel he has the best chance to win,’’ she said. “I like Newt’’ , the former House speaker, she said, “but I just feel like he’s kind of a time-bomb. I don’t feel like he’s electable in a general election,” and would, she thinks, turn off women voters.
She also likes Santorum, “but he’s too strong on the social issues, I believe. He would be painted as an extremist and scare off independent voters. And independent voters will decide this election.”
In the end, she feels comfortable with Romney: “He won the last primary here. Colorado’s kind of a Romney state.”
In 2010, the tea party played a significant role in Republican primaries and the general election, and Cottrell thinks that’s been a positive: “People are just tired of government spending and the debt and all the welfare programs and handouts people are getting.’’
Ed Hanks, 41, worked for the most recent Republican governor, Bill Owens, and has been involved in GOP politics since he turned 18. He’s an active volunteer with the Personhood campaign, defining human life as beginning at conception. That campaign is trying to get an initiative on the ballot for the third time this year. It failed both times it was on the ballot, in 2008 and 2010.
He’s not firmly fixed on a candidate yet, he said, but likes Santorum most: “He’s always supported the human rights of the unborn, I think more so than the other candidates.’’ But he still pines, he said, for his first choice, Herman Cain, who got out of the race after multiple allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity. Then, too, “I could vote for Gingrich,’’ he said, but would “have a hard time with either Ron Paul or Romney.”
Ken Peck, 61, is a lawyer who lives in Arvada, and once worked on Capitol Hill, where he met the candidate he’s supporting, Newt Gingrich, a man he sees as someone who “solves problems and proposes effective solutions.’’
He thinks Colorado Republicans will be pretty evenly divided between Gingrich and Romney, but takes Gingrich’s point that Romney can’t seem to close the deal with conservatives: “People know what Romney is and they don’t buy it.”
Lesley Hollywood, 32, is director of the North Colorado Tea Party. She named her new daughter Liberty, and took the 10-week-old infant to a packed Paul event in Fort Collins on Tuesday.
She’s definitely supporting Paul, she said, because “when you take a look at the four remaining candidates, and you really delve into their records, especially with Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, the tea party has been opposed to (their issues) since its foundation.”
Hollywood mentioned government spending, requiring individuals to have health insurance, and cap-and-trade policies. “I think Newt Gingrich and Romney are one and the same,’’ she said. “Rick Santorum isn’t nearly as bad as the two of them.”
She said she does not see the Republican field as an embarrassment of riches, and is glad Paul is an option: “There’s so much disenchantment with the Republican candidates in the presidential race, it’s really hard to get a pulse” on what a tea party turnout will look like.