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Colorado GOP Shrugs Off Lower Caucus Turnout

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Were the roads bad? Or were the candidates bad?

Fewer Colorado Republicans participated in Tuesday’s presidential caucuses than four years ago. GOP officials shrugged off the slightly lower turnout the morning after Rick Santorum surged past Mitt Romney to complete a three-state sweep.

“It was a Colorado winter night, and fresh snow that morning didn’t help,” said Broomfield Sen. Shawn Mitchell, who said his caucus location was packed.

State GOP chairman Ryan Call likewise didn’t seem disturbed by the turnout dip. He said after the caucuses concluded that he was happy with turnout of about 66,000 people.

Watch a complete interview with Call on the CBS4 Morning News in the video clip below:

The official results for Colorado’s caucus Wednesday morning with nearly 100 percent of precincts reporting were:

Rick Santorum 26,614 – 40.31 percent
Mitt Romney 23,012 – 34.85 percent
Newt Gingrich 8,445 – 12.79 percent
Ron Paul 7,759 – 11.75 percent
Write-Ins 71 – 0.11 percent
Rick Perry 52 – 0.08 percent
Jon Huntsman 46 – 0.07 percent
Michele Bachmann 28 – 0.04 percent

But Call had earlier predicted 70,000 to 80,000 would turn out.

Some wondered Colorado’s turnout was part of a national trend of unimpressive GOP turnout. Republicans turnout was also down in Tuesday’s other two contests – Minnesota and Missouri – and in some states with earlier presidential contests.

“This is a similar story that we’ve seen in most of the contests to date,” said George Washington University political scientist Michael McDonald, who tracks turnout for the United States Elections Project.

“What appears to be happening is that while moderates and independent-leaning Republicans are voting for Romney, they are not voting for him enthusiastically. He has not fired them up … and that poses some real concern in the general election if he is the nominee.”

Colorado Democrats were quick to pounce on the GOP’s turnout numbers. A statement from the party Tuesday night said the GOP presidential candidates “disappoint in every region of the country.”

“I don’t think Colorado is going to be very enthusiastic as a whole to the field of candidates that they’re having put up right now,” House Democratic Leader Mark Ferrandino said.

Romney even lost the support of a Democrat known for jokingly backing him. Rep. Don Pabon of Denver drew huge laughter from both parties Wednesday when he mockingly resigned as chairman of “Democrats For Romney,” a tongue-in-cheek group lawmakers coined because of Pabon’s frequent skewering of Romney.

“The more people learn about (Romney) as a candidate, the less excited they are and I think that contributed heavily to low turnout,” he said.

Joking aside, Colorado Republicans insisted they had nothing to worry about in Tuesday’s turnout numbers. Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs even cited the fact that Republicans moved their caucus dates up a month. The part chose the Feb. 7 date to inspire more attention, and all four candidates campaigned for Republican votes here in the days before the caucuses.

“We made a lot of big changes, and changes like take a while to permeate,” he said.

Cadman, whose conservative home county was largely responsible for the Santorum win, said he was cheered by the crowd at several caucuses he visited Tuesday.

“There were a lot of brand-new people there, people who have never gotten involved in the caucus process before,” he said. “I was amazed at the number.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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