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Trump Praises Evangelicals, Pans Colorado’s Caucus System

Presumptive GOP nominee makes first campaign visit to state Friday

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the 2016 Western Conservative Summit in Denver on Friday. (Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the 2016 Western Conservative Summit in Denver on Friday. (Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

DENVER — Donald Trump praised evangelicals, vowed to get tough on terror and promised to help America win in his first campaign visit to Colorado Friday.  

The presumptive GOP nominee started out praising the swing state, which was won twice by Democratic President Barack Obama and twice by Republican President George W. Bush, as he addressed the Western Conservative Summit.  

But then Trump panned Colorado’s GOP caucus system, which allocated all 34 of the state’s elected convention delegates to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.  

“Polls came out that I was going to win Colorado,” Trump said. “And then all of a sudden I didn’t get the delegates.”  

He did not mention that the state doesn’t hold a primary election and that Republicans didn’t hold a straw poll at precinct caucuses. And Trump had virtually no campaign presence in the state.  

Trump played to the patriotic and faithfully Christian summit crowd, recounting a recent event that former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson organized for him with evangelical leaders.  

“The evangelicals have been so amazing to me,” he said. “I’ve won with evangelicals in many, many states.”  

The Colorado Convention Center ballroom was less than two-thirds full for Trump’s talk. Organizers had said 4,000 people — the capacity of the room — would attend the event.  

Attendees paid a minimum of $120 to attend Friday’s talk, with top tickets for the weekend-long summit selling for $600.  

Much of the talk was standard Trump. The candidate criticized illegal immigration, called Democratic foe Hillary Clinton a liar, vowed to repeal Obamacare and more.  

“We’re going to eliminate job-killing regulations,” Trump said to applause. “We’re going to have massive tax reform and lowering of your taxes and simplification.”  

He noted the importance of the president’s power to appoint Supreme Court justices while taking a bit of a sideswipe at some of his former opponents who haven’t stepped up to support him.  

“They were really nasty to me and I was really nasty to them,” Trump said of his former rivals. “Some of them just can’t understand the importance of a victory for Republicans.”  

His tough talk on terrorism drew crowd approval as well. At one point, he turned the talk to Turkey, where terrorists killed more than 40 people at the Istanbul airport this week.  

“I hope to see Turkey go out and fight ISIS,” Trump said. “Turkey has a tremendously powerful military and they could wipe ISIS out by themselves.”  

Wearing a red Trump hat, 28-year-old Benjamin Cooper, of Superior, Colorado, noted that his family helped him pay the entry fee. He said he’d been supporting Trump in online debates, and wanted to see the candidate in person.  

“I’m not a fan of his personality particularly, but I’m a fan of his policies and what is needed for the country,” Cooper said. “I’ve always been politically independent. This will be my first time voting for a Republican.”  

Crystal Gallimore, 34, of Fort Collins, wore glittering red lipstick and a “Make America Great Hat.”  

“He says everything that everyone wants to say,” she said. “He’s our only option. It has to be more of capitalism and business.”  

The Western Conservative Summit bills itself as “the largest gathering of conservatives outside of Washington, D.C.” — an apparent reference to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. It is sponsored by the Centennial Institute, a think tank affiliated with Colorado Christian University.  

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate in 2008, warmed up the crowd for Trump, referring to establishment Republicans as “profiles in pudding” and others as “Republicans Against Trump — or RAT for short.”  

A conference media organizer said he didn’t know if Palin or Trump received speaking fees for their appearances.  

Other speakers at the weekend event include former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and conservative commentators Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager.  

Outside the convention center, protesters picketed Trump’s appearance. At least three people were arrested , and one man was taken away by police after trying to punch protesters.  

At a nearby park, opponents built a temporary wall to protest his immigration policies.  

Trump was also scheduled to attend a $10,000-per-couple fundraising lunch at the home of former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. Other co-hosts were Pete Coors, of the famed beer family and a former GOP Senate candidate, and Larry Mizel, a Denver developer and philanthropist.  

For $50,000, couples could get a VIP meeting and photo with the candidate, The Denver Post reported.  

Before he left for the fundraiser, Trump made his classic promise about “winning.”  

“We’re going to win so much that the people of Colorado are going to be sick of winning,” he said.  

And he vowed to return to the battleground state.  

“We’re going to win Colorado,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back a lot. It’s a very important state in terms of winning the election.”  

Sandra Fish is a Colorado journalist who specializes in politics and data. Follow her on Twitter @fishnette.

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