By RANDY ELF
DENVER - Many states have taken their turns in the spotlight of attention in American presidential elections.
This year Colorado was among the more evenly divided states that enjoyed or endured, depending on your perspective extensive attention during the general-election campaign.
So here in the capital of this Rocky Mountain state, with spectacular views of the mountains just to the west, the 2012 presidential campaign was anything but quiet.
Although the list of bellwether states changes from presidential election to presidential election, a pattern has held for 10 consecutive elections, beginning with the full ascendancy of the American conservative movement in presidential campaigns in 1976.
In this center-right country, Republican candidates win when they're seen by both Republicans and by those eager to support conservative-leaning candidates as sufficiently embodying conservative ideas and when they cheerfully and persuasively articulate those ideas while broadly reaching out to all Americans, including those who don't ultimately vote for the Republican candidate. That has been a winning path in five elections: Reagan '80, Reagan '84, Bush '88, Bush '00, and Bush '04.
Republican presidential candidates not following this path or not quite following this path have come up short, however narrowly or not so narrowly: Ford '76, Bush '92, Dole '96, McCain '08, and Romney '12.
Are other factors ever relevant? Of course. Yet the pattern of 10 presidential elections remains.
For one reason, consider The Post-Journal editoral one day after the GOP loss in 1992.
The Republican presidential candidate lost because of his "flight from Reaganomics and conservatism in general," the editorial said. He "blurred the differences between Republicans and Democrats, to the detriment of his own party. Given a choice between liberalism and low-budget, watered down liberalism, voters will choose the real McCoy."
To put this simplistically, neither major party has a majority of voters, so to prevail each must reach outside its ranks. The many voters who prefer to support both conservative-leaning candidates and Democrats see neither factor in a moderate or liberal Republican. They see one of the factors even in a liberal Democrat.
The 2012 field of candidates for the GOP presidential nomination was filled with people of outstanding character, experience and leadership ability. This includes Mitt Romney, who won over millions of people in the last month of the campaign.
Nevertheless, there was a sense throughout the campaign that the Republican candidates with the best chance of winning had sat this one out, which is no criticism of anyone who did the hard work of running.
Add to that the fact that defeating an incumbent is never easy, especially in an era of extraordinary presidential continuity: America is on track to have only five presidents in the 36 years from 1980 to 2016. Excluding the 1930s and 1940s, that's the greatest period of presidential continuity since Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe from 1788 to 1824, and Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Jackson from 1800 to 1836.
But defeating an incumbent is doable. It has happened twice in recent decades.
In the end, the 2012 Republican campaign came up just short, and Americans have re-elected the teams at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
So now the task of Republicans in Washington is to stand for the principles on which they were elected, and advance their principles in another campaign in another year.
They might consider remembering the pattern of 10 presidential elections.
West Ellicott lawyer Randy Elf is in Denver to defend, in the United States Court of Appeals, First Amendment rights to political speech.