DENVER, CO – The tone of the crowds was a signal, a warning shot. Other than the raucous rally at Arapahoe High School on Monday night, the crowds that greeted Mitt Romney at his campaign stops in Colorado were respectful, but not enamored with the former Massachusetts Governor.
Even though Romney likely had the plurality of support among all registered Republicans in Colorado, the advantage in caucuses goes to those candidates with a more passionate, even if not necessarily larger, base of support.
With turnout only around 8% of registered Republicans, it was not the broader GOP electorate that mattered, but those that showed up at their local high school or elementary school classroom to cast their vote in the Presidential preference poll.
The Mitt Romney supporter profile just didn’t match up to the contours of the prototypical caucus attendee, which is more conservative and activist-oriented than the average rank-and-file Colorado Republican.
A good example of this came in Fort Collins neighbors Lynette Hanks and Sherri Schloss, who attended Romney’s rally in Johnstown on the day of the Colorado caucus.
Both supported Romney’s candidacy. Both cited his successful background in business and his personality as reasons for their support.
“I think he is someone you can trust,” said Schloss. “He has integrity and honesty, and I think he has the business experience that will help turn our economy around.”
Hanks and Schloss also embodied the type of turnout profile that can be unreliable in caucuses. Neither went to their caucus in 2010, and Hanks was unable to attend the 2012 caucus due to a conflicting event.
In Larimer County, home of Hanks and Schloss, Santorum beat Romney by nearly 15 points.
At Romney’s election night headquarters this disconnect with the conservative grassroots base was also evident. The room was packed with political operatives, reporters and a modest contingent of supportive, but not animated, fans of the candidate. Missing were supporters adorned in campaign t-shirts and holding homemade signs that grassroots energy naturally creates.
The mood in the room was plainly dispirited as early returns came in showing Rick Santorum vastly over performing expectations, and in fact decimating Romney in the first rural counties to report results.
While reporters were quick to note Romney’s superior performance in Colorado in 2008, supporters clearly saw this as a false analogy.
In 2008, Romney was the conservative alternative to frontrunner John McCain. On caucus night in 2008, supporters were quicker to use the word conservative when explaining their support for him. The dynamics in Colorado were different four years ago, however, and that role has shifted undeniably to Rick Santorum this year.
When asked if it was fair to compare Romney’s 2012 finish to his 2008 race, Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, who has endorsed Romney’s campaign, demurred, saying “it’s not a fair comparison. This is a competitive field. We certainly understand that as we move through this election cycle you can’t win them all, but ultimately Romney will be the nominee and we will challenge President Obama and make him a one-term President.”
The sentiment that Romney will ultimately be the nominee seems to be the prevailing wisdom a day after Romney’s loss, even with many supporters acknowledging that Romney still has a ways to go in getting the base on board.
But if there is one silver lining in Romney’s Colorado campaign, it is that his image among less politically engaged voters who help swing Presidential elections, like Lynette Hanks and Sherri Schloss, is a positive one. For to win Colorado, you must win suburban women who don’t necessarily ascribe to a political ideology, a key demographic in the Front Range battleground communities that will likely decide the general election in November.