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GOP, Democrats to convene

Democrats officially ended their presidential selection process Saturday and Republicans finished theirs months ago – but both parties still have things to do in this big political year.

Because of that, this week will be one of the most political in recent memory for the Inland Northwest, with three state conventions scheduled. Washington Democrats will meet in in Spokane, two weeks after the state’s Republicans held their meeting in the same location. Idaho Republicans head to Sandpoint, while Democrats meet in Boise.

The purpose of all the meetings is roughly the same: Get activists of all stripes together to talk issues, candidates and strategies, so newcomers can learn from the veterans and the enthusiasm of each can rub off on the other. Some party organizations still have delegates to select for the national conventions at the end of the summer, but the last bit of suspense ended Tuesday when Illinois Sen. Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination to face presumed GOP nominee Sen. John McCain, of Arizona.

That’s likely to shift any possible drama to more parochial matters, such as adoption of platforms or election of party leaders.

The more than 1,000 Washington Democrats headed to Spokane also will have plenty of social activities, with a preconvention reception Thursday night, banquet on Friday featuring Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sen. Patty Murray and a post-convention salmon feed with Sen. Maria Cantwell on Saturday.

Gregoire gets to find out if Democrats can be as rabid for her as Republicans were for Dino Rossi at their convention the end of May. Both are odds-on favorites to make it through the Aug. 19 top-two primary and face each other in a rematch of the 2004 election.

Before they get too deeply into the debate over their platform – the statement of values and principles the convention must adopt – Washington delegates will also get a speech Saturday morning from U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who carried the state in the 2004 presidential election.

Meanwhile in Sandpoint, more than 1,000 Idaho Republicans will gather at the Bonner County Fairgrounds starting Thursday, where they must select 32 delegates and 32 alternates for the national convention in September in Minneapolis. They also will choose between current Chairman Kirk Sullivan and former state Sen. Rod Beck to lead the party.

The two are sparring over whether to close the open primary. Idaho has no party registration and primaries are open, allowing voters to choose which ballot they vote. Close to a third of Idahoans say they’re independents.

Beck wants to close the GOP election, guaranteeing that the party is pure and Democrats can’t vote in it. He’s the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to overturn Idaho’s open primary system last fall.

The party also is bracing for possible antics by supporters of Ron Paul, who are attempting to influence the national convention even though McCain has more than enough delegates for the nomination.

“We’re kind of preparing for something,” said Hanna McGee, the party’s political director. “We’re looking forward to having Ron Paul and John McCain supporters there.”

Paul has made Idaho one of his top targets and supporters have skirmished with Republicans in Nevada, Georgia, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Missouri. In Spokane, Paul’s supporters staved off an attempt by delegates supporting McCain and other candidates to end the Washington convention early.

Paul supporters have been running for Republican Party precinct committee posts across the state and caused a scene in Kootenai County, hoping to bring their candidate’s brand of Republicanism to the Idaho party and influence its platform.

Paul received 24 percent of the May primary vote, compared to McCain’s 70 percent. That means Paul is guaranteed at least five delegates to the national convention.

The Sandpoint gathering kicks off at noon Thursday with registration. Platform discussions begin Friday morning and former Montana Sen. Conrad Burns will speak at 2:15 p.m. before delegate selection. Gov. Butch Otter will speak Saturday morning and party elections start at 12:45 p.m.

In Boise, the state Democratic Party convention will be a low-key affair, with no big-name speakers and a focus on training for campaign work ahead. About 500 people are expected to attend the gathering, which runs Thursday through Sunday.

“This is a heads-down, let’s-get-the-work-done convention,” said Chuck Oxley, state party spokesman. “The Democrats in Idaho are already fired up – what they need is training.”

Obama has claimed nearly all of Idaho’s 23 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, including four superdelegates and 15 of the 18 regular delegates. The fifth superdelegate is to be elected during the weekend convention; the other three delegates went to Hillary Rodham Clinton, based on Idaho’s Super Tuesday caucus results in February.

The Idaho Democratic gathering will include a picnic sponsored by the AFL-CIO, meals with the party’s congressional and legislative candidates, platform and rules debates, and a heavy schedule of training, from sessions for “neighborhood leaders” and new county party chairpersons to a two-hour seminar on how to use the party’s new national voter identification program.

The main business conducted will be election of delegates to the national convention and electoral college electors, and adoption of the platform.

“It’s not going to be a high-visibility event for people who are not Democrats,” Oxley said. “It’s a business-oriented convention – we have things to do, and we’re going to do them.”