Denver — The race to the 2012 Republican nomination may take a more serious turn in Ames, Iowa, in two weeks, but Western Conservative Summit organizer John Andrews hopes that today’s straw poll will provide an important snapshot of likely voters in Colorado, a key battleground state that the GOP hopes to flip.
“In 2010, it was our hope to become a stop on the presidential campaign trail in 2011, and it has worked out that way. We have four announced or potentially announced candidates, as well as a surrogate for another candidate,” Andrews told Primary Event. Announced candidates Rick Santorum and Herman Cain were joined by Gov. Rick Perry — who is widely expected to announce his intentions in August — and Amb. John Bolton. A representative for the other announced candidate, Mitt Romney, also addressed the summit.
Sunday’s straw poll will feature many additional names, both announced and rumored — for a total of 14 — including Michele Bachmann, Rudy Giuliani, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Thaddeus McCotter, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, and Tim Pawlenty. Write-in votes will also be allowed.
“Two weeks ahead of Ames, we’re going to put Denver on the map with a straw poll of our own, for Colorado and the mountain states,” Andrews said. ”It does make the summit attendees take their presidential speculation more seriously.”
Former Congressman Bob Beauprez (R., Colo.), spoke on behalf of Romney on Saturday night. “I think this is one of those elections that’s going to turn on ‘kitchen table’ issues. Everybody’s suffering,” said Beauprez, rattling off current economic numbers that he says paint bleak prospects for the current administration.
“Romney has spent his entire life in the private sector. ‘Jobs’ isn’t just another word in the dictionary to Mitt, he’s actually created them. He understands how the free market economy works,” Beauprez added.
Beauprez joined others in arguing that, despite Colorado’s relatively smaller number of electoral votes, a close election could turn on key “purple” battleground states like this one. Colorado awarded it’s nine electoral votes to President Barack Obama in 2008, but prior to that election, since 1964 has only once voted for the Democratic candidate since (in 1992).
Colorado’s heated 2010 U.S. Senate contest, pitting then-appointed Democratic Senator Michael Bennet against a favored tea-party candidate, Ken Buck, became the most expensive race in the country in outside, third-party spending. Most attendees, including Beauprez, felt that 2012 would feature a repeat of that level of interest — and spending — from both parties.
Jason Worley, radio host and an organizer of a local 9/12 group, believed the field remained wide open, although he noted that at this point, more of the people he talked to within Colorado’s grassroots liberty movement had begun mentally excluding certain candidates, rather than settling on one or more favorites.
“I think it’s obvious people have been ruled out more than people have been ruled in,” said Worley. “People are still looking for someone who will stand up, say what they believe in, and not be a part of the political machine.”
But Worley stressed the need for the eventual nominee to be able to appeal to grassroots — Tea Partiers and their allies — as well as the traditional Republican base. “They have to do both, there’s no question. If you have the principles, you will appeal to both.”
Worley declined to name a favorite.
Republican voter Betsy McCain (no relation to that other McCain, she politely noted) admitted she was “leaning” toward Perry. “He’s run a successful state and in this horrible economy figured out a way to create jobs,” McCain said.
Economy and jobs would be the No. 1 priority, according to McCain. “Someone who can get our fiscal house in order” would seal the deal, she said. McCain maintained that having a woman in the race (Bachmann) was also very attractive.
For Douglas County School District board member Meghann Silverthorn, picking a favorite this early would be difficult.
“We wish we could have a ‘composite’ candidate, because we want someone who understands free market economics, individual liberties and freedoms, and somebody who wants to get the government out of our lives,” said Silverthorn.
Like many others, Silverthorn was still “looking” at a few of the candidates, but declined to mention specific names.
Danny Stroud, chair of the Denver County Republicans, also remained circumspect. “We want someone who we can trust to be a constitutional conservative,” said Stroud. “Get the government back to where it’s supposed to be.”
He pointed to candidates like Cain, who could fire up a crowd. (Cain had been the keynote speaker for the county’s Lincoln Day Dinner in March.) Still, Stroud declined to endorse Cain, noting that the field was still not settled.”They’re all qualified, but I think there are still a lot of cards face down in this process,” Stroud concluded.
The results of the straw poll are expected at 1:00 pm MDT.