Mitt Romney, in Colorado Springs last week to deliver a rousing keynote speech to 700 Republicans at The Broadmoor's high-class setting, gave a real boost to a party that has suffered many, many losses in Colorado in recent years.
In this state, Abe Lincoln's Grand Old Party has lost majority control of both the state House and Senate, as well as the governor's office. Meanwhile, two congressional seats have gone over to the Democrats.
Romney gave a rousing half-hour speech, highlighting his latest campaign ad, which was inspired by an essay that former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan created shortly after the shootings at Columbine High School. American children, Noonan wrote, are swimming in filthy waters a cesspool of violence and sex and drugs and perversions. Those waters, Romney stressed, need to be cleaned up.
The top-tier presidential candidate and former governor from Massachusetts was certainly engaging, and got lots of laughs. Right away, he noted that there were "more Republicans in this room than in my entire state."
Another crack that elicited uproarious laughter including from one local print reporter covering the event involved a description of a conversation Romney said he recently had with his wife, Ann.
Romney to wife: "In your wildest dreams, did you ever think I'd run for president of the United States?"
Wife to Romney: "Mitt, you weren't in my wildest dreams."
Romney even did what very few Republicans have been doing lately in stump speeches: He praised George W. Bush though not by name.
"This president has kept America safe," Romney said, to loud applause. "A war is being waged by terrorists, and as long as there is a Republican president, there will be a war on those terrorists."
It was like a classic episode of "old home week," with more elected officials and former elected officials than can possibly be named. There was former state Sen. MaryAnne Tebedo catching up with former Senate President Ray Powers, and current Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany beaming and cracking jokes.
There was "Mother Mary" Harold, looking divine as always; former state Rep. Mark Cloer and Douglas County pro-life activist Kendal Unruh exchanging hugs. Ed Bircham sported a red, white and blue flag-patterned tie. Kyle Fisk, former aide to Pastor Ted Haggard and an unsuccessful candidate for the Legislature last year, was assigned the thankless task of herding media, which he carried out with good cheer.
State Attorney General John Suthers received the county party's Republican of the Year award, and County Clerk & Recorder Bob Balink, serving as master of ceremonies, briefly donned an enormous top hat along with Abe Lincoln-esque whiskers.
All in all, it was the makings of a good time. But there were also moments when a bitter edge would bubble up, reminding that the party only recently was stripped of its power.
Take, for example, one early moment when county GOP chairman Greg Garcia was addressing the crowd. Out of his mouth, for no seemingly apparent reason, popped this nugget: "The socialistic media is preventing us from getting a word in edgewise."
The assembled reporters most of them local, just one of whom could remotely be considered a socialist dropped their jaws in disbelief.
And then there was the Rev. Don Armstrong. Of a potential pool of dozens,even hundreds, of local religious leaders, the Republicans picked Armstrong to deliver the opening prayer. You recall Armstrong; he's the guy who has, for months, been embroiled in a battle with the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado after splitting Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish into divided factions. Armstrong also has been accused of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars from Grace.
In his prayer, Armstrong beseeched the Lord God to truly, and impartially, administer justice. Perhaps he was speaking generally.
Another head-scratcher occurred by way of Bob Schaffer, presumably the state Republican Party's only candidate running for Wayne Allard's U.S. Senate seat. The organizers finally let Schaffer speak after dinner, after Romney and Garcia and Armstrong and Balink, even after state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams spoke, and after some people already were leaving.
Oh yes, Dick Wadhams, who moved back to Colorado after the re-election campaign of his former boss, ex-Sen. George Allen of Virginia, went down in flames last year. Allen not long ago was himself considered to be presidential material for 2008, until he called a young man "macaca" last year, never recovered and lost his Senate race to Democrat Jim Webb.
When Wadhams took the podium to deliver what was billed as "seven minutes of wisdom from Wadhams," he didn't mention Allen or macaca or Bush, not even the generic term "president."
But Wadhams did give a glimpse of what's been on his mind. That included, in this order: making fun of U.S. Rep. Mark Udall for actually promoting the idea of creating a Department of Peace; making fun of state Rep. Michael Merrifield for his "special place in Hell" comment of last year, which referenced two recalled District 11 school board members; and ridiculing Gov. Bill Ritter's property-tax freeze to help pay for public education.
Now, the property-tax freeze was originally a Republican plan, but Wadhams has decided to refer to it misleadingly as a "massive" tax increase. Notably, his comments scoffing the freeze received only tepid response.
And in that crowd of Republicans, it spoke volumes.