DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is Don Gonyea, travelling with Mitt Romney, who made two stops yesterday in Colorado - a state that went easily for President Obama in 2008 and which is considered vital to both candidates' hopes this year.
As he has in two earlier visits in recent weeks, Romney stuck to conservative parts of the state. At a high school in Grand Junction, out west, he held a town hall meeting where he went after the president on jobs and taxes.
MITT ROMNEY: I know that last week, the middle class of America got a kick in the gut when the jobs numbers came out and we found out we'd created only 80,000 jobs. Our nation needs to create about double that if we're going to keep up with the population growth of our nation, and so we're falling further behind under this presidency, and that's one reason why we're going to change him, and get someone in there who can get this economy going.
GONYEA: This was Romney's first town hall meeting in more than two months. At events like this he is sometimes challenged by voters on the health care law he signed as governor in Massachusetts - Romneycare - or about his own wealth, and about money he keeps in overseas bank accounts. In Grand Junction, there were no such questions. Most set up topics and talking points Romney was eager to make.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So, why does the Obama team and the liberal media want us to think that we should be more angry with what you do with your money than what Obama has done with mine?
GONYEA: That question drew loud and sustained applause before Romney answered.
ROMNEY: I'm not going to apologize for success at home and I'm not going to apologize for America abroad.
GONYEA: But despite such moments, long time Colorado pollster, Floyd Ciruli, says Romney is moving cautiously at this stage in the state, avoiding so far the Denver metropolitan area.
FLOYD CIRULI: I assume this is a Maoist strategy - take the countryside and the cities will follow.
GONYEA: Polls in Colorado have given the president a narrow but consistent lead over Romney, even when bad news on the economy or other topics has hit the administration. Ciruli says Romney will need to win over suburban voters around Denver. He says those are the people who decide statewide elections here.
CIRULI: And so ultimately, that's where this battle will be and he hasn't gotten there yet.
GONYEA: But first, Romney, who unexpectedly lost to Rick Santorum in the Colorado caucuses earlier this year, is working to shore up support among the GOP base. His second stop yesterday was Colorado Springs, more than an hour south of Denver. Forty-four-year-old Robbie Kaiser was letting his dog run in a park downtown. A tax lawyer, Kaiser says he's a party-line Republican voter.
ROBBIE KAISER: I'm sort of a fiscal conservative, probably more of a social liberal - tend to vote more with my financial heart and mind, I guess.
GONYEA: Are you a Romney guy? Have you been a Romney guy?
KAISER: I'm not really excited about Romney, to be honest. I mean, I'll support him.
GONYEA: But, Kaiser says, he does think Romney has a hard time relating to average Americans. Romney didn't hold a rally in Colorado Springs. He came to visit a food bank collecting provisions for people displaced by the massive wildfires that tore through the area. He met privately with some families then he joined workers in a warehouse sorting packages.
GONYEA: It was a low-key visit. Afterward, he stood in the warehouse and spoke of the fires.
ROMNEY: We've all watched what's happened here with horror, as we've seen the flames and the homes lost and the stories of loss of life.
GONYEA: Less than a week earlier, the president also visited Colorado Springs to view fire damage and to meet with families. Yesterday, Romney praised those lending a hand locally before adding that there's something people all around the country can do to help out.
ROMNEY: And what's happening is people are staying away because they think the whole area's been burned out. It's not. It's beautiful, as it's always been, and tourists need to come back.
GONYEA: It was Romney mixing the skills he might need one day as the nation's consoler-in-chief with those of the local chamber of commerce president. He was a candidate and a businessman. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Colorado Springs.
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