Colo. Republicans pick delegates, vote in straw poll |

Colo. Republicans pick delegates, vote in straw poll

Colleen Slevin
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” For the first time in 30 years, Colorado Republicans participating in Tuesday’s caucuses have a chance to have a say in their party’s nominee for the White House.

John McCain entered Super Tuesday as the national GOP front-runner with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney fighting to sustain his candidacy. If that race continues, the votes Colorado Republicans cast in their local caucuses could help break it later because the state’s 43 GOP delegates won’t be chosen until the state convention in May.

McCain and Romney are competing with two other major candidates, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. While Romney supporters planned to gather in Denver to wait for the results, McCain’s campaign didn’t have any event planned.

Romney, who visited last week along with Paul, had the early backing of leading Republicans in Colorado, including U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, former Gov. Bill Owens and Attorney General John Suthers. McCain announced last month that he was being backed by former U.S. Attorney Michael Norton, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton and former Deputy Attorney General Marti Allbright Whitmore.

Interest in the contest was high among state Republicans and the phones were so busy at party headquarters Tuesday that state chairman Dick Wadhams was pitching in, explaining to voters how to find their precincts and caucus locations.

Democrats were predicting that more than 30,000 people could show up at their caucuses, more than twice as many as turned out for 2004 caucuses. Wadhams didn’t estimate how many Republicans would caucus but he said his party’s voters were clearly just as motivated as Democrats.

“All I know that there is no doubt in my mind that we’re going to have a lot of people who have never participated before. That’s precisely what I wanted to have happen,” he said.

During the caucuses, Republicans take two votes.

Their main job is picking delegates to go to their county convention later this month or in March, the first of several steps in deciding which delegates go the Republican convention in Minneapolis. Delegates at caucuses don’t have to declare which candidate they will support.

But since those final delegates won’t be selected until the state convention in May, the most interesting part of Tuesday’s caucuses is a straw poll where Republicans can pick which presidential candidate they support.

The Republicans have 46 delegates to the national convention, including three distinguished delegates who do not have to go through the delegate selection process.

The state Senate ended work Tuesday morning to allow members time to go back home for their caucuses.

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said he was driving back to Mesa County with Rep. Steve King to cast his vote for Romney ” and start the four-hour drive back to Denver at 4 a.m. on Wednesday.

With so many Republicans gathering for the caucuses, Penry said it was also a great opportunity to do some campaigning for some friends running for county commissioner. He planned to hit 8 to 10 caucuses.

“Romney is a guy you can see on the stage next to Hillary or Obama and making the case,” Penry said.

Sen. Greg Brophy drove back to his caucus in Wray to vote for Romney, but he was a little less enthusiastic. He said none of the GOP candidates perfectly aligned with his views on abortion, guns or spending, but he couldn’t vote for McCain because of his support for immigration reform and opposition to waterboarding by government interrogators.

That lack of excitement didn’t bother him, though. He said while some Democrats were excited by the prospect of picking a candidate with “charisma” in Barack Obama, that wasn’t as important to conservatives like him.

“We want ideas. It’s not a beauty contest to us,” Brophy said.

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