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Speech fuels momentum among area Republicans

Dorothy Millard, a Republican precinct officer in north Spokane for 34 years, didn’t like any of her choices for president this spring. She was undecided in the precinct caucuses, and not terribly enthusiastic for most of the time since.

But after watching John McCain deliver his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination Thursday night, the 83-year-old retired cattle rancher and Christian book store employee was happy.

Happy for her party and happy for the country, which she feared was on the verge of losing some of its freedoms.

“I think our country is going to survive,” she said shortly after McCain finished his speech. “This is just super.”

Millard was among some 130 local Republicans who gathered at the Spokane Valley Quality Inn to watch the speech in an event designed to generate excitement for candidates up and down the Nov. 4 ballot.

In a room where red, white and blue helium-filled balloons bumped against the ceiling, party leaders passed around sign-up sheets, looking for volunteers to stuff envelopes, wave campaign signs or work phone banks. Local elected officials facing challenging campaigns, such as county Commissioners Mark Richard and Todd Mielke, handed out literature while the crowd waited for McCain’s speech to begin.

Since the beginning of the campaign, Spokane County has been a challenge for the McCain forces. He pulled only 15 percent of the delegates and finished third in February’s precinct caucuses, where the biggest plurality went to U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas, and other delegates were split among Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and “uncommitted.” Paul supporters outmaneuvered McCain forces at the county convention and won a share of Eastern Washington’s delegates to the national convention in St. Paul, Minn.

But McCain appears to be making inroads in the region, thanks in part to his selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate.

Jon Wyss, the Eastern Washington coordinator for the McCain campaign, said that when the pick was announced, “the phones and the e-mails just lit up.”

“It’s like a spigot opened and people have been flowing in,” he said.

Millard and others gave Palin’s speech Wednesday high marks, but they were watching and listening closely to McCain as he delivered his.

Like the delegates on the convention floor in St. Paul, they applauded when he said he’d “rather lose an election than see the country lose a war,” promised to appoint judges who “don’t legislate from the bench” and pledged to drill immediately for offshore oil. They stood in approval when he finished his speech with the story of his captivity in Hanoi during the Vietnam War and an exhortation to “serve a greater cause than yourselves.”

Jim Robinson, who supported Paul in the caucuses and conventions, said he thought McCain did a good job of cementing his biography in viewers’ minds. He also liked the list of things McCain said he wanted to accomplish, reforms that seem to come from Paul and some of the other GOP contenders in the primaries, such as reducing the size of government and the amount of taxes.

“It’s the best speech I ever heard John McCain give,” Robinson said.

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