Republican delegates look ahead to RNC in Tampa

The Colorado Statesman

Colorado delegates to this summer’s Republican National Convention gathered for the first time since the state convention at a mixer last weekend in Denver to get acquainted, preview a packed schedule, and joke about the possibility of a hurricane.

Because Colorado is considered one of only a handful of key battleground states in this year’s presidential election, the state’s contingent of 36 delegates and 33 alternates to the RNC can expect a lot of attention from national media at the convention, set for Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla., organizers said.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, a Santorum delegate and the chair of Colorado’s delegation to the RNC, presents a limited-edition delegation button from Colorado’s 1992 trip to the GOP convention to party hosts Chuck Berry and his wife, Maria Garcia Berry, in their Hilltop home.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Delegates, elected officials and friends convened Saturday at the Hilltop home of former House Speaker Chuck Berry, who heads the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and his wife, public-affairs consultant Maria Garcia Berry, CEO of CRL Associates.

Maria Garcia Berry and Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call talk at a party for RNC delegates thrown by Garcia Berry and her husband, former House Speaker Chuck Berry, at their Hilltop home.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Republican National Committeewoman Lilly Nuñez, who sat on the selection committee that picked Tampa for the convention, promised delegates that they’ll be in for a treat this year.

Former Colorado First Lady Frances Owens and her daughter Monica Owens, a Romney delegate, survey the crowd on the way in to a party for RNC delegates on July 14.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“The RNC is really working hard to make this a memorable convention,” she said. “We are planning a big delegate experience for you, one that you will never forget. Tampa has been working really hard on this.”

In addition to convention business — including the anticipated nomination of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to run against President Barack Obama — the Colorado delegation will be busy enjoying a lunchtime cruise around Tampa Bay on Tuesday on a private yacht and a private concert by Florida-based country singer Jake Owen, whose Platinum-certified single Barefoot Blue Jean Night went to the top of the charts last year.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, a Santorum delegate and Colorado RNC delegation’s chairman, displays a commemorative button worn by the state’s 2004 RNC delegation at a party for delegates on July 14 in Denver. Conway said he has designers at work creating a button for this year’s delegation, which will be limited to 100 copies.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Romney ran second in Colorado’s precinct caucuses, behind Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and wound up with 13 pledged delegates. The remaining 20 delegates are either unpledged or committed to Santorum or Ron Paul. In addition, Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call, Nuñez and Republican National Committeeman Mike Kopp are automatic delegates. (RNC Committeeman Mark Hillman is unable to attend the convention, so is stepping down early to allow Kopp, who was elected at the state convention in April, to take his place.)

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner tells a group of RNC delegates not to worry about attacks on presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney because, “When you start taking flak, you know you’re over the target,” at a party for the Colorado delegation on July 14 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner spoke briefly to the crowd and urged Republicans against getting discouraged at a flurry of attacks against Romney over his tax returns, which dominated the news that day.

Tea Party Brewing founder Nancy McKiernan, a Santorum delegate, and Judy Martinez visit at a party for RNC delegates.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Keep your heads up. Smile. We’re winning this thing,” he said. “And you know how we know we’re winning this thing? There’s an old saying, ‘When you start taking flak, you know you’re over the target.’ This is great news that they’re coming after us as hard as they are.”

Romney campaign official Doug Robinson, a co-chair of the candidate’s finance team, stresses the importance of a unified delegation at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Delegation chairman Sean Conway, a Weld County commissioner, told delegates that the convention schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, but he said to expect prime-time sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights in addition to daytime convention business. On Thursday, the convention plans to hear acceptance speeches from the presidential and vice presidential nominees, he said, though cautioned that some of those specifics could change.

Unpledged delegates Luke Kirk and Solomon Martinez talk politics at a party for RNC delegates on July 14 in Denver. Kirk, 21, is the youngest member of Colorado’s delegation. Kirk was nominated to run against state GOP Chairman Ryan Call for an open seat on the national Credentials Committee.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Then, hefting an official 2004 delegation button the size of a salad plate, Conway said he plans to solicit sponsors for a limited edition of just 100 official buttons for this year’s Colorado delegation. The button will be decorated with iconic Colorado images — like the 2004 edition, it will definitely include the Air Force Academy chapel, an announcement greeted with approval by Academy alumni in the crowd, but others are yet to be finalized.

Arapahoe County GOP chair Joy Hoffman, a Romney alternate, and R Block Party founder Lori Horn, a Romney delegate, talk at a mixer for RNC delegates.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Could you make them just a little bit bigger?” one delegate joked. “We’re not Texas,” another shot back.
Conway spent some time discussing Tampa’s challenging weather, warning against consistently hot temperatures — a circular prepared by the city says daily temperatures average a high of 90 degrees in August, Tampa’s hottest month of the year.

State Sen. Kent Lambert, a Santorum delegate, talks with Bryce Carlson, a Romney alternate, and Attorney General John Suthers, a Romney delegate, and his wife, Janet, at a party for RNC delegates at the home of Chuck Berry and Maria Garcia Berry in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

He said that organizers have contingency plans in case a hurricane strikes during the RNC but spent more time advising delegates to wear comfortable shoes and light clothing.

Melissa Kuipers, attorney and policy advisor at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm, is the chair of the Colorado Convention Committee for the RNC and has been working on special events and arrangements for the Colorado delegation over the last few months.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“It’s been 27 years since Florida’s east coast was hit with a hurricane during the last week of August,” said Nuñez, prompting a few delegates to wonder if that means the region is due for some bad weather.
“I propose we call it Hurricane Conway,” quipped Call.

Among a running dispute whether El Paso, Douglas or Weld county is the “promised land” for Republicans, delegates and alternates introduced themselves.

“I got in this because I was sick and tired of all my friends sitting around, pissing and moaning and not doing a damn thing,” said Joe Burke, an alternate pledged to Paul and fifth-generation Coloradan from Teller County. “I’m going to Tampa to do something about it!”

Tea Party Brewing founder Nancy McKiernan, a pledged Santorum delegate, said her political involvement is a recent development.

“Four years ago I did not know what a delegate was,” she said. “I learned what a delegate was when, I like to say, I was campaigning for Sarah Palin. It’s pretty incredible that four years ago I didn’t know what a delegate was, and here I am.”

Paul Archer, a Romney delegate and the chair of the Arapahoe County Romney campaign, is no newcomer to the RNC.

“I have watched every national convention since 1964,” he said. “I watched the Goldwater nomination with my dad, and I’ve always wanted to go. This is my first convention.” Sounding a note for his candidate, he added, “If we have a 100-percent unified delegation, we’ll have seats on the front row of the convention center, which will be awesome,” Archer said.

Romney campaign official Doug Robinson, a co-chair of the candidate’s finance team, made a similar pitch.

“We’ve got to unite to take back the White House,” he told delegates. “I saw some Ron Paul and Santorum stickers, which are great, on the way in. I’ve got some Romney buttons here, if you want to take one of those,” he said with a smile. “Leave the Ron Paul one there too, just supplement it with the Romney sticker.”

Providing an update on the campaign’s activities in Colorado, Robinson said he was heartened by what he heard at a Romney fundraiser in Aspen last week that raised a reported $2.5 million.

Robinson said he talked with the young valet parking attendants working the fundraiser and asked who they were voting for. “One stepped forward and said, ‘I’m not embarrassed to say, I’m voting for Obama,’” Robin-son said as gasps went up among the RNC delegates. He said he asked why that was, and the young man told him it was because he could stay on his parents’ health insurance until he’s 25. Robin-son wanted to know why he would want to do that. “‘Because this is the only job I can find,’” the young man replied.

‘“That’s exactly why you need to vote for Mitt Romney,’” Robinson said he told the youth. “It’s a tragedy in this country that we have these kids coming out of college who cannot find a job.”

Then he told the group to expect frequent visits from Romney in coming months.

“Colorado’s going to be a key battleground state,” Robinson said. “We’re going to see a lot of the governor here. He’s purposely gone to Grand Junction, Colorado Springs to solidify the base, I think we’re going to see him more in Denver and some of the key counties around the metro area as the summer goes on.”

The delegation also began the process of selecting a male delegate to sit on the national Credentials Committee, to replace an original designee who had to bow out over scheduling conflicts. Since all the delegates weren’t present, Conway said he would conduct a poll via email this week, after press time, but two candidates were nominated at the gathering. Unpledged delegate Luke Kirk — at 21 the delegation’s youngest member — is vying against Call for the spot.

The Credentials Committee is a possible venue for a showdown between Paul and Romney supporters over whether to seat competing delegations from a few states where Paul won a majority of delegates but state parties substituted replacement slates.

The RNC delegation next plans to meet Aug. 11 at a private Greenwood Village home.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com