Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ahead of caucuses, major Colorado tea party group promotes Ron Paul

THE COLORADO INDEPENDENT | John Tomasic | February 7, 2012
In advance of the Colorado Republican caucuses tonight, the Northern Colorado Tea Party– perhaps the most influential of the state’s many tea party groups– isn’t backing away from its constitutional conservative mission. Far from recommending members warm up to presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, the group has unofficially thrown its support behind libertarian Congressman Ron Paul.

Last week, the Johnstown-based group (which operates over a large swath of the northern Front Range but lists Johnstown south-east of Ft. Collins as its postal address) sent out an email blast littered with exclamation points announcing Paul’s brief visit to Denver. It also pointed caucus goers to the group’s “no rhetoric, all facts” GOP Presidential Voter Guide, a deadpan exercise in candidate demolition that leaves no doubt where the group stands.

The authors of the guide skewered Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum as unreliably conservative in both fiscal matters and in checking government overreach.

The guide’s list of facts on Romney, for example, opens on “Romneycare” and underlines that the Massachusetts healthcare plan steered into law by Romney was the blueprint for tea party-detested “Obamacare.” The list then moves onto Romney’s support for the big government-style anti-free-market TARP bailouts, gun right restrictions and climate change “cap and trade” proposals. The list wraps by calling Romney a “flip flopper” on amnesty for undocumented residents.

By contrast, not a single unqualified negative comment falls into the Ron Paul list. Paul’s record on government spending is described as “stellar.” Even Paul positions typically controversial on the right, such as his anti-interventionist foreign policy and commitment to ending “War on Terror” policies and programs, are described in an unabashed positive light.

It’s hard to say how much influence the Northern Colorado Tea Party leaders will exert on caucus activity today, but the group’s large presence in the state’s fourth congressional district and strong support for CD4 candidate Cory Gardner in 2010 likely played a large role in Gardner’s easy victory over Democratic incumbent Betsy Markey. The group also lead the state-wide tea party support that boosted Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck’s U.S. Senate bid that same year, propelling him to primary victory over establishment candidate Jane Norton.

Messages to the Northern Colorado Tea Party went unanswered this week, so its loose membership in the thousands or even perhaps tens of thousands couldn’t be confirmed. Estimates, however, put state-wide tea party membership in 2010 at something like 220,000. If those numbers have been even moderately sustained, tea partiers will have a significant impact at the GOP caucuses.

There are roughly 1.08 million registered Republicans in Colorado and only roughly 10 percent of those will turn up to caucus tonight. Politicaly engaged tea partiers will make up a disproportionate number of attendees.

Although tea party support for Paul will certainly thin Romney support, it bodes particularly ill for rival runner-up candidates Santorum and Gingrich.

Santorum at least is likely to do well among the state’s large Colorado Springs-based evangelical voting bloc.

“I ask you to reset this race,” Santorum told voters here this past weekend. “Create an opportunity for someone who can speak to Americans about what America is all about.”

Yesterday in Golden, just miles from the country’s National Center for Atmospheric Research, the former Pennsylvania senator let loose a stemwinder at an energy forum in which he attacked international climate scientists as partners in a conspiracy to willfully create panic that would open up the country to totalitarian-like government control of the economy. He laced his talk with tent-revival-style reference to god’s will and man’s dominion over the natural world.

Yet it may be Gingrich who seems to be hoping most for a miracle in Colorado. He still has minimal campaign presence in the state and has spent almost no time here. His three wives and outrageous Tiffany tab won’t help him win the Focus on the Family-Tim Tebow vote and his term as House Speaker and then as Beltway-influence peddler are sure to undercut his attraction to anti-government tea partiers.

Romney, however, despite tea party and evangelical resistance, may pull off a key victory in the Centennial State. He has gained momentum from a series of recent primary victories and will be boosted here as he was this weekend in Nevada by the Mormon vote. Mormons make up roughly 5 percent of all religious adherents in Colorado, or something like a community of 140,000 believers who generally vote Republican.

Romney enjoyed 60 percent support among Colorado Republicans in 2008, burying John McCain in that year’s caucuses.

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