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Colorado delegates Randy Corporon, George Leing, Don Ytterberg, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, Vera Ortegon and Joy Hoffman attended the in-person portion of the Republican National Convention in North Carolina. (Colorado Republican Party handout)

The Colorado delegates chosen to attend the Republican National Convention in person say catching coronavirus while in North Carolina wasn’t a concern, and some who had to stay home say they wish the national party had held a full, normal event.

Colorado sent six representatives to join the 336 delegates who gathered at the start of the week to unanimously nominate President Donald Trump for reelection.

Per party protocols, the delegates submitted daily symptom reports and took COVID-19 tests before they left for Charlotte and again when they arrived. They also completed temperature scans before being permitted to participate in the day’s events. 

Delegate Don Ytterberg, a former state GOP official from Golden, said the safety measures “were nothing short of spectacular.”

The in-person start to the four-day Republican convention stands in contrast to the virtual format employed by Democrats a week earlier. As Trump faces criticism for his handling of the coronavirus, Republicans are grappling with a tenuous balance: acknowledging the virus has killed more than 175,000 Americans and plunged the nation into economic recession, while pushing a return to normalcy as the key to an economic rebound. 

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The convention reflected some of that reality, with a split between in-person and virtual events.  The second half of the convention will be virtual, and guests will speak mostly from Washington, D.C.

Republican leaders in Colorado said they hoped the hybrid structure would still convey enough political energy to buoy their chances in the state, which hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate for president since 2004 and which Trump lost by 5 percentage points in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the Colorado Republican Party chairman, acknowledged the pandemic would impact races and the party’s outlook for November, just as it has affected the convention. 

“It will make for a different campaign, and it’s going to be very interesting what side benefits from that,” Buck, who lives in Windsor, said in an interview before leaving Charlotte, where the first day of the convention took place. “But it’s definitely less in-person campaigning this year than in the past.” 

The state party decided which six attendees to send based on who needed to be there the most because they served on party committees, and that disappointed some delegates. Republicans had earlier proposed moving part of the convention to Jacksonville, Florida, but a spike in cases in the state pushed the party to cancel. 

Marty Neilson, a delegate from Lyons, said the national party should have held a full convention, even if it meant moving the festivities to another state. She was frustrated being at home and not on the convention floor.

“I think it’s too bad that it’s being handled this way,” she said. “I think the RNC should have started planning it in March to move it out (of North Carolina).”

The national party gave masks to the delegates participating in the roll call of the states, which they were required to wear at all times under North Carolina guidelines. Ytterberg said mask-wearing was “100% compliance 100% of the time,” but live feeds of the event on Monday showed sporadic mask-wearing among the delegates. 

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Masks ultimately came down to “voluntary compliance,” said Randy Corporon, a Centennial resident and Colorado’s incoming Republican National committeeman. He said the health measures were somewhat overbearing. “I thought it was overkill and inconvenient, but I wasn’t opposed to it in light of the circumstances.”

Joy Hoffman, a Colorado delegate from Greenwood Village, said the health checks went smoothly. “It really was not very intrusive or horrifyingly annoying or anything like that.” 

The other members of the delegation that traveled to North Carolina were Vera Ortegon, the national committeewoman from Pueblo, and George Leing, the national committeeman from Niwot. About 60 delegates and alternates remained in Colorado, but the party is planning an event for delegates Thursday in Windsor to watch Trump accept their party’s nomination. 

“I’m watching right now and I should be there,” Andy Jones, a Highlands Ranch delegate who was an alternate in 2016, said as he watched a live stream of the proceedings. “This would have been my time to full-throatedly support my president and be there to be a part of it and to celebrate in my mind the amazing accomplishment over the last four years.”

Neilson, 78, acknowledged that her age puts her in a vulnerable population for coronavirus, but she said she was not worried about going to North Carolina. She said she has traveled 7,000 miles and visited seven states in recent months to escape the public health restrictions in place in Colorado.

“I haven’t had any concern about this flu, I’m sorry,” she said, comparing the coronavirus to the seasonal flu, even though medical experts say COVID-19 is different and more serious.

Buck lamented the “anticlimactic convention” this year and said he preferred an in-person convention. But he said it wasn’t possible. 

“Under the circumstances, this is what we could do and what the Democrats could do,” the congressman said. “I think it’s understandable and I think most people get it.”

“The last thing you want is an outbreak at a political convention,” he added. “So I think they made the choice that made the most sense.”

Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.

Evan Ochsner

The Colorado Sun | Twitter: @EvanOchsner