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GOP Faithful in Colo. Reflect Test Ahead for McCain

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And if John McCain is going to patch up relations with conservative voters, one place he should probably go is Colorado. Republicans there overwhelmingly chose Mitt Romney in the caucuses on Tuesday.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports that Colorado's GOP leaders appear ready to rally behind McCain, but winning over the rank-and-file will take some work.

JEFF BRADY: Before today, it was pretty common to hear Republicans in Colorado say John McCain just wasn't their guy. Gail Kurtguard(ph) lives in the Denver suburb and she attended a Mitt Romney rally last week, carrying a sign that read, Lutherans for Mitt.

Ms. GAIL KURTGUARD (Resident, Colorado): If he doesn't get the nomination, I don't know what I'm going to do. It's going to be really tough to make decision into that.

BRADY: The time to make that tough decision has come. Erik Jackson(ph) is a 27-year-old Republican from Littleton, Colorado. His support for Romney was as much an anti-McCain vote as it was an endorsement for the former Massachusetts's governor.

Mr. ERIK JACKSON (Resident, Colorado): For me, McCain is a Democrat. He's - I just couldn't vote, for me I'll stay home (unintelligible) and vote for Democrat. For me, we have to go and write in Mitt Romney or Mickey Mouse or something, but it wouldn't be McCain. That's why I don't think there's any way he can win because the conservatives will not go out for him.

BRADY: Jackson's views are commonly held in Colorado where Republicans tend to be more conservative than the party as a whole. Many here are evangelical Christians. When they see McCain, they think of the high-profile pieces of legislation that often include a liberal Democrat's name. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. And then there was that immigration proposal co-sponsored with Senator Ted Kennedy. So conservative Republicans in Colorado chose Mitt Romney, and much of the state's Republican leadership endorsed him.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers was one of them, but now…

Mr. JOHN SUTHERS (Attorney General, Colorado): I can add numbers, and it became apparent to me Wednesday morning that John McCain can be the nominee of the Republican Party absent in some unforeseeable circumstance.

BRADY: Suthers says he'll get behind McCain and he'll encourage his fellow Republicans to do the same. Former congressman Bob Beauprez also supported Romney. He says the party will rally around McCain. But some of the party faithful are not going to be happy about it. Beauprez says McCain just doesn't live up to the conservatives' standards set by party icons like Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater. He says a McCain presidency would change his party.

Mr BOB BEAUPREZ (Former Congressman, Colorado): I can imagine that he could put a coalition together to get elected. I just wonder if it's still going to be the Republican Party or a party of some other name that he ends up representing, that he kind of defines himself.

BRADY: Still, says Beauprez, on his worst day, McCain is more conservative than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama so he'll get behind the party's candidate.

Over at the state capitol building in Denver, State Senator Nancy Spence ducked out of a meeting to say she is very disappointed Romney is dropping out. But she says there is a silver lining. Spence says now there will be plenty of time for intraparty wounds to heal before the general election.

State Senator NANCY SPENCE (Republican, Colorado): They're going to be people who perhaps made commitments that now they're not going to keep. They might have talked about other candidates in a way that they would regret, and I think it just gives our party a time to heal and to unite behind one individual.

BRADY: The Democrats on the other hand, says Spence, still have a bruising nomination fight ahead of them that could go all the way to the convention in August.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
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