When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was asked whether he thinks El Paso County could be the key to the White House, he smiled and said, “I sure hope it is.”

Romney sat down with The Gazette Monday evening before a campaign rally in Denver to discuss issues for both Colorado and El Paso County. The former Massachusetts governor shared his thoughts on a series of issues, including protecting military funding and the Waldo Canyon fire.

See video here of our discussion with Romney.

Romney also weighed in on Amendment 64, the Colorado ballot measure that would legalize marijuana, saying flat-out that he would oppose it.

And Romney said he’s counting on Pikes Peak region Republican voters.

“Given the number of Republicans in El Paso County, I’m hoping we get a big turnout, and the people of El Paso send a message that helps me get elected president and gets America on a new path.”

The governor said keeping the military intact and healthy is one of his top priorities.

“My priority is to protect the American people and their life and their liberty, and to do that, you need a strong military,” Romney said.

Automatic budget cuts that take hold in January under a deficit-cutting plan approved by Congress, hacking $500 million from the Pentagon’s budget, are an “extraordinarily bad idea.” Instead, Romney said he’ll not only cancel the cuts, but will grow the defense budget each year, to match the rate of inflation.

Military families won’t get any extra special tax cuts aside from the public, but he did reiterate his promise to cut taxes “across the board” by 20 percent.

As in other recent interviews, however, Romney didn’t specify where the 20 percent would come from.

Romney toured the Colorado Springs area in July, after the Waldo Canyon fire devastated the western portion of the city. And he said on Monday, as he did in the summer, that every precaution must be taken to guard against another fire.

“We have to have very substantial resources to protect homes, to protect businesses, to protect our infrastructures. And the idea of cutting back on firefighting equipment and personnel is, in my opinion, a very serious mistake.”

When asked about Amendment 64, Romney nodded, and said simply that he would enforce federal law. Which means that if he’s elected, it may be a moot point if 64 gets a thumbs up from Coloradans.

The Gazette mentioned the Taxpayers Bill of Rights at one point, and the governor said he’d support a Constitutional amendment to limit future federal spending, akin to what TABOR does in Colorado. TABOR, among other provisions, limits budget growth using a formula that factors in population and inflation.

Romney said he’d push for an amendment that requires the government to limit its spending to only its income, essentially cutting off its ability to borrow. He’d also like to limit federal spending to a “certain percentage of the total economy,” with 20 percent of the GDP as a starting point.