GOP Candidates Court Coloradans Ahead of Tuesday Caucuses

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Colorado Republicans get to weigh in on the presidential contest tonight at the GOP caucuses. Three of the four candidates made their final pitches to Coloradans yesterday. Mitt Romney courted Republicans from the Western Slope to the Front Range; Rick Santorum spent his time in the Denver metro area; and Newt Gingrich made his first campaign trip to the state. We have reports from all three. The first comes from KUNC’s Kirk Seigler, who started the day in Golden with the Gingrich camp.

This is a transcript of Seigler’s report:

Reporter Kirk Seigler: Until now, Newt Gingrich has been noticeably absent in Colorado, despite multiple appearances from fellow underdogs Ron Paul and Rick Santorum and a pair of well-attended rallies staged by Mitt Romney. Speaking at small rally of his own at a Golden hotel, Gingrich took aim at Romney, saying the GOP front-runner doesn’t represent the change Republicans are after.

Newt Gingrich: He’s not a bad person per se, but he’s also not a person who goes in there with force and will and fundamentally changes things, and we’re in a situation where we need fundamental change.

Reporter: Gingrich also spoke out in favor of the hotly-contested Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. The White House delayed approval of that project last month. Those comments previewed his next event of the day, a speech to an energy summit at the nearby Colorado School of Mines.

This is a transcript of Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus’ report from the energy summit:

Reporter Ben Markus: I’m Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus at the School of Mines event. It was sponsored by groups that favor more domestic energy development. In his remarks, Newt Gingrich kept his aim squarely on President Barack Obama.

Gingrich: This is the most anti-American energy Administration that we’ve ever had.

Reporter: He again bemoaned Mr. Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline, and he took aim at what he considers a lack of common sense in environmental regulation.

Gingrich: I am for closing the Environmental Protection Agency and replacing it with a brand new Environmental Solutions Agency with brand new people.

Reporter: He said no country has more domestic sources of energy than the U.S., and that excessive government meddling is hurting development of those resources. Rick Santorum, speaking after Gingrich, reiterated that point, saying that the Obama Administration had declared a war on fossil fuels through unnecessary taxes and regulation.

Rick Santorum: It is one of our greatest assets that we have hundreds of years of years of coal, well over a hundred years of oil, and probably a couple hundred years, and we don’t even know yet how much gas we have. And the President does not look at that as an asset for our country.

Reporter: Santorum says America needs cheap energy to become prosperous again.

Santorum: One of the key elements is to keeping energy costs affordable here in America, because manufacturing, obviously, is one of the greatest, highest users of energy.

Reporter: In contrast to Gingrich, Santorum has campaigned heavily in Colorado, running TV ads and barnstorming the state since he lost badly in Florida. It seems to have paid off in converting Colorado Springs voter Tim Seibel, who had been leaning towards Mitt Romney or Gingrich.

Tim Seibel: But after going to a Santorum rally last Wednesday I was really impressed with his character and his understanding of things.

Reporter: He wanted to see Santorum one more time before he made his decision, and he left this event convinced that the former Senator was his guy. Both candidates received standing ovations from a crowd mostly filled with Republicans. Elliot Thompson from Evergreen was one of the few Democrats. He says it’s telling that neither candidate mentioned renewable energy or conservation.

Elliot Thompson: Talked about how man was put on Earth to dominate, was the message that I heard, and that the plants and animals come second.

Reporter: But Elliot doesn’t get to weigh in on the presidential race yet. Only registered Republicans can participate in Colorado’s caucuses. And that’s who the candidates were targeting at all of Monday’s campaign events.

Ben Markus, Colorado Public Radio News.

This is a transcript of Colorado Public Radio’s Mike Lamp’s report from Mitt Romney’s rally in Centennial:

Reporter Mike Lamp: I’m Mike Lamp, with the Mitt Romney campaign. After a midday stop in Grand Junction, the candidate ended the day with an upbeat rally at Arapahoe High School, south of Denver. Romney did not mention his Republican rivals, and focused instead on President Obama.

Mitt Romney: He was on the “Today Show” this morning, and he said he deserved a second term. Can you believe that? (Sound of crowd booing)

Reporter: Romney criticized the President on the economy and foreign policy. And he repeated his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Afterward, Jan Faylor of Highlands Ranch said she liked what she heard. She was already a Romney supporter.

Jan Faylor: He’s the man. He’s going to go to Washington and get our economy back.

Reporter: But Kent Peterson of Centennial is still deciding.

Kent Peterson: I’m looking at the comparison of who really can beat Obama and that’s who we need.

Reporter: So far, Romney is the only candidate staying in Colorado to await election results. Colorado is one of three states holding caucuses or primaries today.

I’m Mike Lamp, Colorado Public Radio News.

The fourth GOP contender, Ron Paul, did not make an appearance in Colorado yesterday. He hasn’t been here since last Tuesday, when he held several events around the state. The GOP caucuses begin at 7:00 tonight.

[Photo: CPR/Mike Lamp]