DENVER - So far, Mitt Romney is taking an unexpected approach to campaigning in the battleground presidential state of Colorado.
Instead of stumping in the vote-rich Denver suburbs, the presumptive Republican nominee is holding a town hall-style event Tuesday in western Colorado. It will be Romney's second visit in three months to Colorado's Western Slope. He visited coal miners in rural Craig in May.
Romney hasn't been to the Denver area since clinching the Republican presidential nomination. Instead, he is visiting lightly populated parts of the state where he is likely to encounter friendly crowds.
Is Romney avoiding the suburban Denver independent voters who could make the difference in November? Or is he wisely firing up the base in a state where conservative Republicans handed him an unexpected defeat in presidential caucuses?
Opinions differ within the GOP. Some Denver-area Republicans say Romney needs to pay more attention to the population centers, while many rural Republicans say the candidate is smart to first concentrate on the GOP base outside Denver.
"If we get our vote out, we can offset Denver and some of the suburbs outside Denver," said Kevin McCarney, a Republican activist and Romney volunteer in Clifton, near Grand Junction.
On the other hand, some Denver-area Republicans are wondering why Romney seems to be avoiding the population centers. Mesa County, where Romney is holding the town hall Tuesday, had about 65,000 registered voters from all parties at the end of June. Moffat County, where Romney stopped to talk about coal mining in May, had about 5,500 registered voters from all parties.
In contrast, Denver County and suburban Arapahoe and Jefferson counties had about 250,000 voters each.
"I think he needs to spend a little more time in our district," said Nathan Hatcher of Arvada, GOP chairman for the 7th Congressional District. "He's been a little quiet, to tell you the truth, but it's early."
A Republican critic of Romney in Denver was even more blunt.
"I think he's going where he thinks it's going to be friendlier and things are going to be easier. You can read into that what you want," said Florence Sebern, a delegate to this summer's Republican National Convention who prefers Republican Ron Paul, who is no longer actively campaigning. Sebern said Romney has work to do with independent voters outside Denver.
"I'd be surprised to see how many people showed up if he came to suburbs," Sebern said.
The Denver suburbs, though, are among the few places in Colorado where voters have a track record of crossing party lines. Two years ago, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet narrowly defeated a Republican tea party candidate thanks mostly to independent and even GOP crossover votes in those suburban Denver counties.
Republicans hope Romney's organization will crank into higher gear in the Denver suburbs. In the meantime, they hope he's doing the right thing making stops in less-populated Colorado.
"Colorado is both the Front Range and the Western Slope, and it wouldn't be a good idea for him to ignore one region or the other," said Pitkin County GOP chairwoman Frieda Wallison, a pledged RNC delegate for Romney.