GOP Faithful in Colo. Reflect Test Ahead for McCain

If John McCain is going to patch relations with conservative voters, one place to go might be Colorado, whose Republicans overwhelmingly chose Mitt Romney in the caucuses Tuesday. State GOP leaders appear ready to rally behind McCain, but winning over the rank-and-file will take some work.

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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.

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Mitt Romney Drops Out of GOP Presidential Race

Mitt Romney announced he was suspending his presidential campaign on Thursday, a move that all but cedes the Republican nomination to rival Sen. John McCain.

Romney — a former Massachusetts governor who spent $35 million of his own money in pursuit of the White House, as well as millions more that he raised from others — told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., that dropping out was for the good of the Republican Party, which needs to unite for the general election.

"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or (Barack) Obama would win," he said. "And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."

Romney added that it was not an easy decision for him. "I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our sponsors ... have given a great deal."

"I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party, and for our country," he said.

With McCain's apparently unassailable lead in the delegate count, Romney's withdrawal effectively hands the nomination to the maverick Arizona senator.

Romney's departure leaves only former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul in the race with McCain. Neither of them comes close to the 1,191 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination.

Overall, McCain has 707 delegates, Romney 294 and Huckabee 195. Romney did not say what he will do with the delegates he has won so far.

Romney failed to win a major primary or caucus. He was successful in states he has lived in and states close by. But he failed to win over Republican evangelicals suspicious of his Mormon faith, who turned instead to Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister.

Romney was also accused of flip-flopping from relatively liberal to conservative positions.

Romney often called himself the "conservative's conservative" and has frequently assailed McCain's moderate credentials. On Thursday, Romney gave McCain qualified praise but did not offer an endorsement.

"I disagree with Sen. McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating al-Qaida and terror," Romney said.