Former CO supporters of Romney have differing views on whether to support him now

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who launched his presidential exploratory committee yesterday, would be President now, if the Colorado GOP had its way in 2008.

You recall, Romney won big here in the GOP’s caucuses over Sen. John McCain, with major Republican support from people like Sen. Wayne Allard, Rep. Bob Beauprez, Sen. Hank Brown, Gov. Bill Owens, and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. GOP State Senators Andy McElhany, Shawn Mitchell, and Nancy Spence all supported him. As did, among others, CO State Rep. Kenneth Summers, Weld Country District Attorney Ken Buck, executives Bruce Benson and Alex Cranberg, and Colorado GOP chair Ryan Call.

Not to be left out, The Denver Post selected Romney in the GOP primary.

Reporters haven’t asked what these folks think of Romney now, about three years later. So I checked in with some of them.

“I’m inclined to think we need a fresh face,” McElhany told me. “I was a strong early supporter of Mitt Romney in 2008, and I think he had his chance at that time, but I’m encouraged to look other places.”

I asked McElhany about the health care law Romney signed into law in Massachusetts, mandating that state residents purchase insurance.

“I don’t think the health care thing helps him,” McElhany said. “Certainly it’s a huge issue, and his support of the Massachusetts law will weigh on him heavily.”

Attorney General Suthers and Colorado Sen. Spence are both still supportive of Romney.

Through his spokesman, Suthers said:

“America is in need of an economic turnaround. No one has the credentials he does in terms of producing an economic turnaround.”

“Of the names in the race so far, I’d still support him,” Spence told me. “Now that doesn’t mean if Superman jumped in, I wouldn’t change my mind. But that’s where I am right now.”

Asked whether the health care issue affects her view of Romney, Spence said, “I supported him last time—and there was the health-insurance and right-to-life stuff then. He did what he had to do in Massachusetts.”

Colorado Rep. Ken Summers hasn’t made up his mind. “Maybe it will be like in 2008 when it was easier to keep track of who wasn’t running than who was,” Summers told me.

Romney’s support of the Massachusetts health care law is not a deal breaker for Summers, who added that he (Summers) was “fully supportive of the health-care exchanges here in Colorado, and he told Rep. Amy Stephens that his “name would have been on that bill if it was introduced.”

“As Republicans go, Romney was doing what he had to do in Massachusetts,” Summers said. “It’s baggage that he’ll have to overcome, just like Tom Tancredo had to do with immigration. But Tom didn’t want to.”

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck is remaining neutral.

“I am staying neutral in the presidential race for a while,” Buck told me. “I am the national co-chair for the Pass the Balanced Budget Amendment. We are trying to get candidates together for a presidential debate sometime this fall, and the leadership is staying neutral until we can get that accomplished.”

Pestiferous Independence Institute President Jon Caldara, who was not listed among Romney’s supporters in 2008, gave me his opinion on Romney:

“My guess is, it’s going to be very, very difficult for him to win support in a GOP primary given his support for what is essentially Obamacare,” said Caldara. I don’t know how he dislodges himself for that. On the bright side, he’s got great hair, and for that I am most envious.”

 Caldara cohort Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute added:

“I would say that Romney’s chances of winning would be much, much higher if Romneycare did not exist, especially because Obamacare will certainly be one of the biggest issues in the 2012 Presidential election, and perhaps the biggest issue,” Kopel emailed me. “The Sunday that the U.S. House voted for Obamacare, the biggest political loser in the nation was Mitt Romney.”

President Barack Obama has been praising Romney’s health care law of late, reportedly saying in a Feb. speech at the National Governors Association:

“I know that many of you have asked for flexibility for your states under this law. In fact, I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He’s right. Alabama is not going to have exactly the same needs as Massachusetts or California or North Dakota. We believe in that flexibility.”

Yesterday the DNC distributed a photo of Romney signing the health care law—with Sen. Ted Kennedy in the photo looking on approvingly. Democrats have also been eating birthday cake and pointing out that today is the five-year anniversary of the enactment of the Mass health-care bill.

Romney did not mention his health care law yesterday, when he announced the formation of his presidential exploratory committee, but he’s said previously that he supports the rights of states to craft their own health care laws.

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