Thune campaigns for Romney in Colorado

Senator blasts Obama’s economic policies
The Colorado Statesman

Sandwiched between visits to Colorado by President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, both campaigns waged a war of words in the state this week over which candidate would do a better job helping the struggling middle class.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican sometimes mentioned as a possible Romney running mate — though he dismissed those prospects on Monday — appeared at a Denver company to blast Obama’s economic policies and make a case that voters should give Romney a chance.

“I’m afraid, ladies and gentlemen, that we are headed for a train wreck in this country — unless we can get this country turned around,” Thune told a small group of supporters and a handful of reporters gathered in industrial neighborhood on Santa Fe Drive as Light Rail trains zoomed past behind him.

South Dakota Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune stumps on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Aug. 6 along with Rio Grande Co. owner Bruce Peterson and U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner at the construction supplies company in Denver.
Photo by Ernrest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Saying Obama came into office filled with hope and optimism, Thune charged that, “all those promises he made have been broken. He’s had three and a half years now, three and a half years to lead this country, and his policies have made matters much, much worse for this country.”

Then Thune ticked off a litany of bad economic news under the Obama administration: persistent high unemployment, higher gas prices since the depth of the last economic downturn, rising health insurance and college tuition costs, and sharp increases in the number of food stamp recipients.

“We have seen the debt explode under this president. Why? Because he believes in expanding government. We’ve seen a doubling-down on growing government at the expense of the private economy,” Thune said. In order to create good-paying, long-term growth in employment, he added, “we have got to make it less expensive and less difficult for our small businesses to create jobs. And every policy coming out of Washington, D.C., these days makes it more expensive and more difficult to create jobs.”

Thune listed some of Romney’s economic proposals — including giving a green light to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which he said would put Coloradans to work immediately, and cutting tax rates across the board while cutting federal spending — but he largely painted a picture of one candidate who understands business and another who doesn’t.

“We have a government that sometimes seems hostile by the way they function and the way that they treat small businesses and the way that they attack success and vilify business in this country. That’s wrong, that’s got to change,” he said.

South Dakota Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune gets some advice from Kurt and Connie Bierkan of the Evergreen Tea Party during an appearance at an ice cream social for volunteers and supporters of the Romney campaign on Aug. 6 at the Romney for President Colorado Victory Headquarters in Lakewood.
Photo by Ernrest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Thune underscored the importance of Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes in the presidential race. Noting that President Bush won the state by 5 points in 2004 and that Obama won by 9 points four years later, Thune said that the swing state’s vote could determine the next president. “I hope that Colorado will weigh in heavily, because if it doesn’t, I fear for our country what happens in a second Obama term,” he said.

Later that afternoon, Thune joined several dozen Republican volunteers at the state Romney campaign headquarters in Lakewood for an ice cream social and spent more than an hour talking to supporters and posing for photographs with admirers.

Standing alongside Thune in front of his company’s towering coal silos, Rio Grande Co. president Bruce Peterson said his building materials company — in existence since 1908, including decades when it was the top supplier of coal to metro-area furnaces — has had a tough time weathering the recent recession, particularly because housing starts have dropped precipitously since the economy took a tumble in 2008.

“We need to bring more business knowledge at the top of our government so that they can allow business and help business grow. They understand growth,” he said.

Romney has his support, Peterson said, because of his temperament and business smarts.

“He’s measured, he’s practical, and he encourages entrepreneurial growth, which is critical, whereas President Obama continues to build government oversight into more and more of our economy, and more and more regulation into our economy. Obviously, the biggest example of this is health care — we don’t even know what that’s going to do to us, we’re on pins and needles. That’s creating an issue for our hiring for the future,” Peterson said.

Appearing at the same press conference, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, a Yuma Republican, noted that Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill in Denver more than three years ago and then lambasted the president for an economy in the doldrums in recent years. The choice in the upcoming election, he said, was clear.

“Nobody understands what it’s going to take to get this company hiring again, to get jobs created again, like Mitt Romney — somebody who has business experience, somebody who knows what it’s like to sign the front of the check, somebody who knows what it’s going to take to end 42 months in a row above 8-percent unemployment,” Gardner said.

Then he framed the stakes in terms familiar to Colorado voters, who have been inundated by television advertising from both presidential campaigns and their allies asking the same question: which candidate is going to strengthen the country’s middle class?

GOP stalwart Russ Haas and Jefferson County Republican Party Chairman Don Ytterberg, who is also vice chairman of the state party, talk politics at an ice cream social thrown by the Romney campaign on Aug. 6 at the campaign’s state headquarters in Lakewood.
Photo by Ernrest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“The middle class is being squeezed,” Gardner concluded. “The middle class is facing higher energy prices at the pump, they’re facing higher grocery prices, they’re facing escalating tuition. And the one person in this race who knows what it takes to provide the relief working families need is Mitt Romney.”

Dems give Obama credit for helping middle class

The next day, the Obama campaign rolled out business owners across the state who argued that the Romney campaign had it wrong, declaring that it was the Obama administration that had the backs of the middle class.

Lorena Cantarovici, owner of Maria Empanada in Denver, said it was Obama’s policies that have helped her restaurant expand and hire workers.

“I am the continuing evidence that the American dream is still alive and kicking,” said Cantarovici, who emigrated 11 years ago from Argentina. “Since I started the company, we have hired new people, bought new equipment, engaged new services and are looking to expand further. I feel Barack Obama recognizes that it’s the middle-income society that is the bones for a prosperous, functioning nation. Imagine a couple million small businesses hiring two to ten new workers per year and expanding in their own way. This is real growth. I believe this is Barack Obama’s emphasis on the economy.”

“This year I am proud to be voting in my first election since I became a citizen,” she said. “I am an independent voter, and I will be voting for Barack Obama, someone who I believe understands that a nation’s prosperity comes from the bottom up, not the other way around.”

In Lakewood, the owner of Helliemae’s Handcrafted Caramels credited Obama’s policies with spurring her company to grow.

“In two years, I’ve gone from testing recipes in my home kitchen to my own little factory, with production equipment and two part-time employees,” said Ellen Daehnick, who appeared at a press conference with state Rep. Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat.

“Looking at the next year, bringing on additional workers and giving raises to current ones, the president’s support of a 10-percent tax credit is meaningful,” she said. “I’d love to have that support for employing more people, at good wages. And, with the changes coming as a result of the Affordable Care Act, I’ll be able to offer health insurance more quickly. I support President Barack Obama. He understands what small businesses need to grow and compete.”

Colorado Springs business owner Richard Skorman — a Democrat, he came in second in the city’s mayoral race last year — lauded Obama for the same tax credit for small businesses and contrasted the current administration’s policies favorably compared with Romney proposals in a conference call with reporters late last week.

“Where President Obama has expanded small business loans, Romney has endorsed a budget that could gut the Small Business Administration by nearly 20 percent, which would severely limit available loans for small businesses like mine,” said Skorman, the longtime owner of Poor Richard’s in downtown Colorado Springs. “From slashing loans for small business to hiking taxes on middle class Coloradans, Mitt Romney is pushing a plan that’s bad for our economy and bad for the country.”

“My wife and I opened our bookstore, Poor Richard’s, in 1975,” he said. “We’ve grown quite a bit over the last 15 years, and a main reason is due to an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan, which I understand is a program Mitt Romney wants to reduce. As a small business, we want to do our part to help the economy recover. We pay our employees a living wage and want to keep expanding and hiring new people, so we are excited that the president supports the 10-percent tax credit for small businesses that hire new workers or give their employees a raise — once again,” he said, “a program Romney doesn’t support.”

Noting that he is among what he described as “the 97 percent of small business owners who don’t make over $200,000 a year,” Skorman said that he would “suffer” under Romney’s tax plan.

“As a small business owner, it’s clear that President Obama supports us and Romney doesn’t,” Skorman concluded.

On Thursday, the Romney campaign blasted out results of a poll released that morning that seemed to bolster its contention that Colorado voters would be more comfortable handing over the economy to the Republican.

A Quinnipiac University/NYT/CBS Swing State Poll, conducted between July 31 and Aug. 6, showed Romney with a 5-point lead over Obama among likely voters, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.6 percent. (The over-all results varied from a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling released a day before, which showed Obama with a 6-point lead, and a Rasmussen Reports poll also released on Tuesday that depicted a dead heat in the state.) But it was the answers to a set of questions on the economy that the Romney campaign highlighted.

According to the Quinnipiac survey, 51 percent of Colorado voters think Romney would do a better job handling the economy, compared to 41 percent who picked Obama. Among unaffiliated voters, Romney does even better, winning that question by 50-38 percent. In addition, 51 percent of Colorado voters don’t think Obama’s policies will ever improve the economy, compared with 26 percent who want to give the administration’s policies more time and 22 percent who think the president’s policies are working.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com