DENVER (AP) – Colorado Republicans chose Rick Santorum for president in February’s precinct caucuses, but now front-runner Mitt Romney has more assured votes from Colorado.
After three days choosing delegates to the Republican National Convention, Colorado’s GOP has chosen 13 Romney delegates and six Santorum delegates. The remaining 17 delegates are unpledged, meaning they are free to choose any Republican candidate for president.
Colorado’s caucuses are nonbinding, and the actual delegates weren’t assigned until the state Republican assemblies, which concluded Saturday.
Santorum said last week that he is leaving the race, appearing to clear the way for a Romney candidacy to challenge President Barack Obama.
But many of the “unpledged” delegates say they’re not ready to choose Romney, saying they prefer a candidate besides Romney. So Romney is not sure to end up with most of Colorado’s votes at this summer’s RNC in Tampa, Fla.
There was a strong undercurrent of dissension Saturday at the University of Denver when Republicans wrapped up their three-day assignment process. Many would-be delegates criticized Romney, and some dejected Santorum fans teamed with Ron Paul supporters to push what they called a “Conservative Unity Slate” to look for a non-Romney presidential candidate.
There were accusations of misleading political fliers, and even some tense moments. One man walked the halls carrying a handwritten cardboard sign reading, “MITT ROMNEY(equals)GUN CONTROL,” and a passing delegate stopped and said, “You got that wrong, brother.”
“Oh, really?” replied the man carrying the sign.
After a tense moment, both walked on without speaking further. But the exchange belied what many Republican delegates said – they’re resolved to defeat Obama, but maybe not quite ready to set aside a vigorously fought primary process.
“I’m going to have to vote for whoever wins, but it’s not going to make me happy if it’s Mitt Romney,” said Tarrison Hare of El Paso County, who helped her congressional delegation elect two non-Romney-pledged delegates Friday. “I have no passion for Romney. None.”
Other Republicans who originally didn’t prefer Romney said that the GOP unease will vanish quickly as the party settles on Romney as the nominee.
State Sen. Ted Harvey, elected as an unpledged RNC delegate Friday from Denver’s southern suburbs, said Romney’s challenge now is to woo conservatives within the GOP.
But he concluded, “If he’s our nominee, no doubt, I’ll work my tail off.”
Romney may need the help. Four years ago, Colorado showed the danger for the Republican nominee who wasn’t the initial pick of Colorado’s activists. Romney won Colorado’s Republican presidential precinct caucuses, then dropped out of the race. The nomination went to Arizona Sen. John McCain, who went on to become the first Republican presidential nominee since the 1990s to lose in Colorado.
At the final convention Saturday, activists heard pleas to work together to defeat Obama from top Republicans.
“Colorado Republicans, it is time that we take our nation back,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner.
Some said the message is sinking in.
Gary Marshall, an Aurora contractor and delegate to the Republican state convention, said the fear that Santorum fans won’t rally behind the nominee is undue.
“They’re coming around,” Marshall said.
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