OLYMPIA – In this year’s volatile Republican presidential campaign, Mitt Romney’s success in the March 3 Washington caucuses may depend on how well he does in the two contests earlier in the week, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chairwoman of his state campaign, said Wednesday.
“It’s up and down,” McMorris Rodgers said in an interview with reporters. “Some of it depends on how things turn out in Michigan and Arizona.”
Those states have primaries on Tuesday; the Washington precinct caucuses are the following Saturday.
Two of Romney’s rivals, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul, have already made stops in the Inland Northwest, and the third, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, has events in Spokane and North Idaho today.
Romney has a stop in the Puget Sound area scheduled for March 1, and McMorris Rodgers said she’s pushing for him to visit Eastern Washington, too. But that’s up to the national campaign, which right now has shifted its resources to Michigan and Arizona where the races have tightened, she said.
In their appearances last week, Santorum and Paul disagreed on an issue that may go before Washington voters in November: whether state law should allow same-sex couples to marry. Santorum said he supports an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that only allows marriage between a man and a woman. Paul said he thought Washington voters should do what they want and the federal government should stay out of it.
McMorris Rodgers said Romney should make clear he’s opposed to same-sex marriage but should spend more time on his plans to simplify the tax code and repeal federal health care reforms.
“Fiscal policies and economic policies, that’s his strength,” she said. “He needs to convince Republicans he’s the one. He needs to speak from the heart.”
McMorris Rodgers was in Olympia to meet with Gov. Chris Gregoire, legislators and state officials on issues involving the state and federal government. Among those is finding federal money for major transportation projects like the North Spokane Corridor. The House is considering a bill that would raise more money for those state projects by increased development of oil reserves, and consolidating some of the many road programs to give the states more flexibility, she said.
Part of that bill calls for lifting federal moratoriums on offshore drilling, which is controversial in Washington. McMorris Rodgers said she doesn’t think the prospects for oil drilling off the state are very good, but “I support letting the states make the decision and lifting the federal moratorium.”
She also advised legislative Republicans to try to delay any expansion of the state’s medical insurance exchange to comply with federal health care reform. Democrats support a bill that would expand the exchange to make it available for federal funds and ready for new rules that take effect in 2014.
“I don’t see the urgency,” said McMorris Rodgers, who voted against the Affordable Care Act. “All eyes are on the Supreme Court and the decision they’ll be making.”