DENVER – Supporters of Mitt Romney showed up at Republican conventions in Denver this weekend ready to put the long GOP primary behind them and unite against President Barack Obama.
Two Southwest Colorado men had something else in mind.
Luke Kirk of Bayfield and Todd King of Lewis, both supporters of Texas congressman Ron Paul, were elected delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. They edged out the official slate of Romney delegates at Friday evening’s convention of 3rd Congressional District Republicans.
King and Kirk campaigned for each other, and they hugged after the hall cleared out Friday evening.
“Whoo! We did it, man!” King said.
In all, four people from Southwest Colorado will be going to the Republican National Convention, including state Rep. J. Paul Brown.
Romney is on his way to getting the 1,144 national convention delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination for president.
“I think it’s pretty well concluded that the contest is over and Romney’s the nominee,” said Karl Rove, the political mastermind for former President George W. Bush who spoke to Republicans at a Friday dinner.
Friday night, Romney earned only five of the 21 national convention delegates assigned by congressional district. The rest were supporters of Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, or unpledged to any candidate.
But Romney rebounded Saturday, winning eight of the 12 statewide delegates.
Brown, the state representative from Ignacio, was elected as a delegate on the Romney-endorsed slate of candidates. Brown said he threw his support behind Romney about a month ago.
King, a horseshoer and GOP activist, said his party has marginalized young people the last several years.
“I was hoping I could make it so I could be a part of the conversation of where the Republican Party needs to go,” King said.
Kirk, 20, will be one of the youngest delegates in Tampa. He wore a “Don’t tread on me” lapel pin and a sticker from Rocky Mountain Gun Owners on his dark coat Friday. He’s a passionate Paul supporter.
“He’s a constitutional conservative. He’s not willing to compromise on the things we hold dear,” Kirk said.
Michelle Gilleland of La Plata County ran on the official Romney slate. King and Kirk edged her out, but she was elected as an alternate to the national convention.
Gilleland said the showing for Paul and Santorum was not a surprise because lots of conservatives are getting active for the first time.
“They’re wanting their voices to be heard,” Gilleland said. “That’s why it’s playing out this way. There are more people getting involved than ever before.”
Santorum dropped out of the race last week. But instead of getting behind Romney’s official slate of delegates, Santorum’s state chairman and key supporters formed an alliance with Ron Paul activists to advance their own slate of delegates.
“The Romney campaign and the Republican leadership had no clue this was going on,” said Sean Conway, Santorum’s delegate coordinator for Colorado. “If our slate wins, it shows you how out of touch they are with the party right now. And they’re going to need us to win.”
Conway said he had been planning the move with the Paul campaign for a couple of weeks, in cooperation with Santorum’s national campaign.
With hundreds of delegates running for just a few dozen spots, campaigns used official delegate slates as a way to make sure their supporters don’t dilute their votes.
King and Kirk appeared on the Paul-Santorum “Conservative Unity” slate.
Conway said the slate was not necessarily anti-Romney, but he and his allies want to make sure Romney sticks to the conservative positions he outlined during the primary.
“I think what we’re trying to do here is send a message to Mitt Romney to not just talk the talk. We want him to walk the walk,” Conway said.
Colorado Democrats also held their state convention Saturday in Pueblo. The delegate slate was not available Saturday afternoon.