JOHNSTOWN, CO -- Mitt Romney's campaign spent Tuesday morning tamping down expectations ahead of tonight's nominating contests, going so far as to say they expect to lose the Minnesota caucus to Rick Santorum.
The former Massachusetts governor's campaign circulated a memo and talking points to reporters this morning reminding them that no delegates are bound by tonight's caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and another primary in Missouri, while reminding interested parties that John McCain lost 19 states in his successful run for the nomination in 2008.
A senior campaign official also said yesterday he expects Romney will lose Minnesota today -- a state he carried four years ago -- but that the contests remaining in February (and the other ones set for March) all favor point toward Romney being able to gain momentum cement his status as the campaign's frontrunner. This morning's memo from political director Rich Beeson closed by underscoring that same point.
"Speaker Gingrich’s and Senator Santorum’s campaigns have resource challenges. The remaining February states may not be kind to them, and their hopes for a comeback in March may be very difficult and based on an incomplete understanding of the delegate selection rules. Even “success” in a few states will not mean collecting enough delegates to win the nomination," Beeson wrote. "In contrast, Governor Romney will be competing across the country and collecting delegates in state after state, even if other candidates pick up some wins. This is exactly the sort of methodical, long-haul campaign we planned for, and we are well on the way to victory."
Romney's campaign made this argument as the candidate himself made a final appearance in Colorado before tonight's caucuses.
The event, though, did not get off to a smooth start.
Thirty minutes after Romney was scheduled to arrive, a woman standing in the front of the crowd suffered a medical problem requiring police attention. She remained on site and was later moved to a VIP seating area. With Romney still absent forty minutes after campaign advisories said the event was scheduled to begin, the candidate called in to the room via Skype, and provided a pixelated and electronically-garbled apology for being late.
When he finally did arrive, nearly an hour behind schedule (a rarity for the tightly-run Romney campaign), Romney apologized for his truancy, blaming weather.
"I really appreciate the warm welcome on such a cold and snowy morning, I guess it took a long time to get the snow off the windshield of the bus. So it slowed us down, but it did not slow you down, so I appreciate your willingness to be here, and to participate in this process," Romney said.
During his speech, Romney once again accused President Obama of waging an "assault on religion," for his position on ministerial exemptions, and on the ongoing battle between the administration and the Catholic church over a new health care mandate.
"Just in the last several days the administration has said, under Obamacare, that religious organization like schools, catholic schools, catholic hospitals and so forth have to provide for free contraceptives and free morning after pills, abortive pills, for all of their employees in violation of the religious conscience of those organizations," Romney said this morning at a rally north of Denver. "This kind of assault on religion will end if I’m president of the United States."
Democrats have pushed back since last night, when Romney first spoke about the issue, accusing him of hypocrisy by pointing to similarities between the federal law -- which requires religious organizations like hospitals, colleges and charities to provide birth control under their health plans -- and a similar provision under Romney's Massachusetts health care reform law.