Hundreds of Washington Republicans will arrive in Spokane this week with their party’s presidential candidate all but chosen. Arizona Sen. John McCain has only to await the national convention in September, where he’s assured of enough delegates to become the official nominee.
But a substantial portion of the delegates to the Washington state convention – perhaps as many as 40 percent, according to some estimates – will be backing another candidate and looking to make their preference known at that national gathering.
Supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas, who is still nominally in the race, will control enough votes to claim delegates to the national nominating convention and perhaps make changes in the state platform.
In pockets around the state, Paul’s supporters, some of whom are political novices, worked the arcane caucus system hard enough to control county conventions and legislative district meetings. Nowhere was that more evident than in Spokane County, which will send 114 delegates to the state convention. Of those, 106 are Paul supporters.
That by itself is probably enough to guarantee them one and possibly two national delegates from Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, barring any procedural maneuvering by state GOP leaders. Late last week, Paul supporters were saying convention rules were being circulated that could shut them out of national delegate spots. Paul also has 11 of 13 delegates from Stevens County, four of eight from Asotin County, and two of five from both Lincoln and Ferry counties in unofficial tallies.
“Basically, in the 5th District, Ron Paul’s got it,” said Curt Fackler, Spokane County GOP chairman. Even though the majority of the state’s delegates will be McCain supporters, Paul delegates will have some ability to elect national delegates from the congressional district and could elect the members of the Electoral College who would cast votes for the president if McCain carries Washington in November.
Paul also has more than two-thirds of the 89 delegates from Clark County and more than 80 percent of Whatcom County’s 38 delegates.
“It’s not going to be dull,” Chet Dow, Whatcom County Republican Party chairman, predicted of the state convention.
Geri Modrell, Snohomish County GOP chairwoman, agreed: “It promises to be a lively (convention) and I think that’s good.”
About a third of Snohomish County’s delegation probably supports Paul, Modrell said, although many of the Snohomish delegates didn’t state a preference at that county’s convention.
King County GOP Chairwoman Lori Sotelo said she doesn’t have an accurate count of her 320-member delegation, the state’s biggest. Many didn’t commit to a particular candidate in the Feb. 9 precinct caucuses, and while McCain won the Feb. 19 primary, numbers for any candidate are “squishy,” she said.
Her main concern is not how the county’s delegation breaks down, but to make sure “it gets there and has a good time.”
In Spokane, delegates to the county convention passed a platform that includes a plank calling for U.S. troops to be brought home from overseas unless there is a declaration of war. Paul supporters say it’s merely a call to obey the U.S. Constitution, but others see it as a repudiation of President Bush’s strategy in Iraq.
In other counties, election of state convention delegates took so long the meetings lost quorums and had to be adjourned without adopting a platform.
Most political conventions are a mixture of pro-forma business and political intrigue. For decades, by the time the Washington state convention is held in late May or early June a candidate has usually locked the nomination.
That doesn’t mean the presumptive nominee and his supporters have complete control of the meeting. In 1988, George H.W. Bush was a lock for the nomination nationally, but supporters of the Rev. Pat Robertson, who stormed Washington’s precinct caucuses that year, sent delegates to the national convention. In 1992, although Bush turned back a challenge from Pat Buchanan, his supporters wanted the pundit-turned-politician to address the state convention. State party officials said no, and Buchanan made his speech on the sidewalk outside.
Maureen Moore, state coordinator for the Paul campaign, is tightlipped about what Paul supporters have planned for the convention, other than “spreading the message of liberty,” which is what the congressman’s supporters say his campaign is about.
“Strategically, it’s just better not to be talking about what we’re doing,” she said.
That could explain why some longtime party members are wondering what Paul supporters will do at the convention that could criticize either the current administration or McCain. But others say the concerns are overblown. Fackler said the new Paul supporters could bring new blood to the party.
Said Snohomish County’s Modrell: “We need some good, lively discussion to get the voters activated again.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.