GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney and one of his three challengers, Rick Santorum, are hitting the pavement in Colorado hours before the state holds its caucus Tuesday night.

Former U.S. Sen. Santorum of Pennsylvania and Romney, former Massachusetts governor, both had morning campaign events planned. 

Romney is looking to continue his winning streak after back-to-back victories in Florida and Nevada last week. Heading into Colorado, Romney leads in the hunt for delegates to the Republican nominating convention this summer, with 101, while Gingrich has 32. Santorum and Paul trail with 17 and 9 respectively, according to an Associated Press count.

Colorado has a significant Latino community. The state's Latino population surged more than 40 percent over the past decade, and Denver, the state's largest city, is more than 30 percent Latino. A majority of Colorado’s Latinos lean Democrat and will not be participating in the caucus, in which only registered Republicans may choose a candidate.

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Colorado Republicans won't actually choose most of their convention delegates until the state GOP assembly in April. But the precinct caucuses are important indicators of a candidate's support.

Romney won the 2008 Colorado GOP caucuses with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Local races and the party platform will also be up for discussion. Caucuses begin at 7 p.m.

Colorado's three million active voters are split nearly evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Though most of Colorado’s Latinos are Mexican-American and tend to vote Democrat, the state Republican party has stepped up its Latino outreach efforts, and with good reason.

Latinos are voting in increasing numbers.

"I recognize the political realities of the changing demographics of the state," said Ryan Call, Colorado's GOP state chairman, according to The Denver Post. "Reaching out to our Hispanic neighbors is absolutely critical if we hope to be successful."

On the other side, President Obama’s campaign is up and running, with a network of offices working to keep Colorado in the president's column. In 2008, more than 60 percent of the state’s voters cast their ballot for Obama.

A story in Boston.com said “The Obama campaign has been careful to cultivate support among Hispanic voters who might harbor deep reservations against Republicans, particularly Romney, who has taken a harder line than some of his opponents on immigration issues.”

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The GOP presidential candidates have not pounded the pavement in Colorado with the same intensity and high profile they did in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada. 

Democrats have rolled up big victories statewide and, in 2008, Obama became the first Democrat in two decades to carry Colorado's nine electoral votes.

Today, however, unemployment is near 8 percent, and Coloradans are gloomier about the economy and their elected officials. Romney and his rivals in Tuesday's party caucuses – the other caucus is in Minnesota -- are counting on that mood to redeliver Colorado to the GOP this November.

Romney's challengers, Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Sen. Ron Paul of Texas are hoping the next stops in the GOP fight for the nomination will give them enough support to validate their staying in the race.

Santorum is hoping that weeks of his criticism of Romney will pay off when Colorado as well as Minnesota hold their caucuses.

The outcome of Colorado and Minnesota isn't likely to dramatically change the dynamics of the GOP presidential race. But a Santorum victory in either of them could give him a boost -- for a day at least -- while shining a light on Romney's troubles with conservative voters who long have been skeptical of his candidacy.

"This is a big day for us to see whether all the work that we put in in the past few weeks, when not so much attention was paid here as to Florida and Nevada, pays off," Santorum said at a Denver rally a night before the contests got under way.

Gingrich and Paul also are on ballots in Colorado and Minnesota, but neither has aggressively competed in the states.

Republican Colorado state Sen. Kent Lambert said -- pointing to a state unemployment rate on par with the national average --"Whoever the Republican candidate is going to be, there's going to be support for that person in Colorado."

In 2010, Republicans regained control of the state House and captured a narrow lead in the state's congressional delegation. One of Colorado's largest employers, the oil and gas industry, is frustrated by perceived hostility from the Obama administration, with an Interior Department led by a Colorado Democrat, former Sen. Ken Salazar.

This story contains material from The Associated Press.

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