DENVER — Colorado Republicans made it clear over the weekend that they’re still lukewarm on Mitt Romney, voting at the state party assembly to send a divided crew of delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Delegates to the two-day Colorado Republican State Assembly and Convention selected 33 delegates and 33 alternates to the national convention. Twenty-one delegates were chosen Friday to represent congressional districts, while 12 were selected as at-large delegates Saturday.
Of the 33 delegates headed to the GOP gathering in Tampa Bay, Fla., fewer than half identified themselves as Romney supporters. Romney picked up five delegates Friday and eight Saturday for a grand total of 13.
Six of the delegates selected over the weekend said they were Rick Santorum supporters, while 14 were listed as unpledged. Of those unpledged delegates, 11 were listed as part of the Conservative Unity Slate, a coalition of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum partisans.
Romney fared better with the alternate delegates, taking 16 of the 33 alternates. Thirteen were unpledged, and four were Paul supporters.
The message for Romney was that even though he may have a lock on the nomination, he still has work to do in winning over Republican activists concerned about his conservative bona fides, according to Santorum and Paul voters.
“The establishment can’t tell the grassroots who to vote for and we don’t have a nominee until we have the national convention,” said Joseph Woyte, sporting a “Ron Paul” button on his suit lapel, who was selected as an alternate and ran on the Conservative Unity Slate.
On the other hand, Romney supporters pointed out that he surpassed expectations, taking more delegates than had been predicted by some analysts, including those at the website RealClearPolitics.
“This is better than they had projected,” said Attorney General John Suthers, a Romney backer. “We feel very good about it. He’ll be fine among Republicans who weren’t represented at this convention.”
Former Congressman Bob Beauprez, who was elected as a delegate to the national convention, said he could already see Coloradans beginning to form a consensus around a Romney presidential candidacy.
“Colorado’s going to be good for him. You heard over and over again today, it’s about jobs and the economy,” said Beauprez.
Party leaders stressed unity during the lively two-day event, which attracted more than 5,000 delegates, party activists and elected officials to the Colorado Convention Center Friday and the University of Denver Magness Arena Ritchie Center Saturday.
“Not all of the candidates you’ve devoted your time and treasure to are going to win,” Joe Coors, running to unseat Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter, told the crowd. “We have to stand together and not let the slivers of differences divide us. The Democrats are hoping that’s what happens because it’s happened in the past. They’re very good at coming together in unity. We need to come together in unity here.”
Santorum, who had been running second to Romney, suspended his campaign Tuesday, leaving the former Massachusetts governor as the prohibitive favorite. Still, the Republican gathering demonstrated that primary rivalries die hard, with many activists refusing to jump on the Romney bandwagon just yet.
Santorum won the non-binding Colorado caucus Feb. 7, and a number of his supporters continued to wave the flag, running a Santorum-Paul slate. Backers of Newt Gingrich also put up a fight, urging delegates to take a second look at the former House Speaker, although no Gingrich delegates were selected.
“The media and the left-leaning folks in the GOP and even some of my conservative friends believe the frontrunner in the race has it all wrapped up,” said Michelle Morin in the pro-Gingrich speech. “This game is not over until we get to Tampa. Anything can happen between now and then. Anything did happen just last week. If you really don’t in your heart support the frontrunner and you’re settling for him in the name of unity and strength, I’m going to challenge you.”
Former Congressman Bob Schaffer, who read a message from Santorum thanking his supporters, drew enthusiastic cheers when he urged Colorado delegates to coalesce behind one candidate.
“I know there were a lot of folks who came here today to be delegates for Sen. Santorum, and I want you to know that I and Sen. Santorum support you,” said Schaffer. “But our goal here is unity. Our hope is that we come out of that convention united.”
The assembly drew some unexpected star power with the appearance of Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, who spoke as the surrogate for Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor “gets it,” said Thune.
“These are all great Americans. But when this is all said and done, we’re going to have a nominee,” said Thune. “I’m going to work as hard as I can and I hope you will too, to make sure our nominee is the next president of the United States, and I believe that nominee is going to be Gov. Mitt Romney.”
As always, the Ron Paul camp was the loudest, cheering lustily for their candidate’s delegate hopefuls and chanting “End the Fed!” after the surrogate speeches.
Don Ytterberg, vice-chair of the Colorado Republican Party, said Santorum’s departure from the race last week left many delegates unsure of how to react. Santorum has not yet released his delegates or endorsed another candidate.
“The Rick Santorum supporters only had a couple of days to respond, and I don’t think they’ve heard what he’s doing yet,” said Ytterberg. “And I think there are a lot of people here who just want to go to the convention.”
Indeed, the assembly saw 859 Republicans running for the 33 delegate slots, roughly twice as many as those who ran in 2008, said Colorado Republican Party executive director Chuck Poplstein.
“Eight hundred people running for 33 slots—that’s something I’ve never seen before,” said Republican Congressman Cory Gardner. “That’s what this process is about. Once that nominee is chosen, it’s going to be a rocket ride to November.”
The lengthy primary battle and large number of candidates resulted in some shifting alliances, which was best personified by delegate hopeful Victory Schmidt.
“I started as a Ron Paul supporter, I switched to Rick Santorum, and now I’m for Newt,” said Schmidt in her delegate speech.
Leslie Gruen contributed to this report.