TAMPA, FLA. — After accepting his party's nomination Thursday at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney's campaign will narrow its focus in Colorado — rallying conservatives, touting energy independence and eschewing social-conservative branding, according to interviews with Romney strategists and Colorado operatives.
So far, Romney's approach to winning the pivotal swing state has puzzled pundits because his first two post-primary stops were in the sparsely populated red areas of Craig and Fort Lupton. He didn't traverse to a purple or a blue voter area; he didn't go after the ever-elusive suburban-women vote.
But those visits — along with speeches in Grand Junction and Golden — were likely a harbinger of how Romney will operate in the coming 68 days.
He will go to big and small places, delivering speeches about jobs, the national debt and how energy independence leads Colorado out of its 8.3 percent unemployment rate.
"He will have to get the Republican vote out, get the base out to go to the polls," said Colorado's state Attorney General John Suthers, who is also a Colorado RNC delegate and Romney supporter. "Republicans are more motivated this year."
Inspiring GOP loyalists is a numbers game in Colorado. Republicans outnumber Democrats and unaffiliated voters alike by more than 100,000 in active voters. By agitating this hearty group in places such as El Paso County and Grand Junction — assuming unaffiliated voters either break even or break Romney's way — he can lock up the state's nine electoral votes and upset its recent blue voting streak.
President Barack Obama won Colorado by almost 9 percentage points four years ago. The Monday morning quarterbacking after that race was that the base was not amply inspired by John McCain to do the grassroots work it takes to win.
Obama's playbook in Colorado is fairly transparent so far: Target young voters, Latinos and women. Then paint Romney as an intimidating social conservative who will focus on abortion and birth control above anything else.
Call it the Sen. Michael Bennet Strategy, after the battle plan that two years ago guided the state's now junior senator through his successful contest with Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.
Romney's camp said Wednesday that it doesn't plan to go on the defensive on social issues — even though surrogates and television and radio ads have already hammered Romney's position as a pro-lifer who is against contraception.
(Romney has pledged to eliminate the Obamacare benefit that gives women birth-control coverage without a co-pay, but he does not oppose birth control.)
"We don't have anything to be defensive about," Beeson said. "It's hilarious. There's no way they can make Gov. Romney into some spooky character as hard as they may try."
Romney's Colorado manager, James Garcia, agreed.
"We will keep talking about the messages people care about," he said. "(Obama) is the president of the United States, and ultimately people are going to hold him accountable with the economy. He has a 3½-year track record, he made a lot of promises. ... We can judge him based on whether he's been a success or a failure."
Yet Romney's campaign acknowledges the likelihood of a close Colorado matchup in November.
All week here in Tampa, Colorado delegates have been hounded to pound the pavement when they get back. They've also been courted by some of the bigger VIPs in the party.
By the end of the convention, Romney's second son, Matt; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, under President George W. Bush; and former governors Michael Leavitt and Tim Pawlenty all will have addressed the Coloradans.
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, the only Colorado GOP member of Congress attending the Tampa festivities, said in a speech to delegates Tuesday that they didn't want to have any regrets the day after the election.
"When we wake up that Wednesday morning and we pick up that empty call sheet, that block list of precincts we didn't get to, and we didn't win, what a shame that would be," Gardner said. "We have to make sure every phone call is made, every door is knocked."
Romney strategists also plan to counter Obama's messages to young voters — the president spoke at Colorado State University earlier this week and heads to the University of Colorado this weekend — by talking about high unemployment rates and the legions of unemployed recent college graduates.
"We have a fairly young and educated population in Colorado, and a lot of them are unemployed," Suthers said. "A lot of them may have voted Democrat, but Romney is hoping to pick up a fair share of these folks, those who just want a job."
The Denver Post's Chuck Plunkett contributed to this report.