TACOMA, June 3.—Mitt Romney won the day at the Washington state Republican convention, after a spirited fight for delegates that reflected the age-old divisions among Republican-party activists in this state and nationwide. The presumptive Republican nominee for president made a sweep of all the delegates to the national convention that remained to be elected Saturday, leaving Ron Paul’s ardent followers with a total five out of 43.
The weekend convention just went to show why the GOP is usually the one to watch in this state. Democrats held their own convention in Seattle over the same weekend this year, a freak of scheduling that occurs every now and again and leaves reporters wondering which to cover. But the action clearly was on the R side. While the Democrats managed to fill only about a third of the delegate positions they had available at their convention, the Republicans filled their 1,500 seats, and battle ensued.
It was over, really, before it started. Romney had the numbers, better than half the delegates who came up through the ranks starting with precinct caucuses in February. But Paul, who this year became the focal point for those less aligned with the party establishment, was the favorite of about a third of the crowd – libertarians, conservatives and tea-partiers. The interest might be read as a measure of the vitality of the party at the grass-roots level, but as always, the challenge of party organizers is to keep everyone marching in the same line after the convention is over. “You won’t have enough votes without us,” read a sign waved by a Ron Paul supporter who sat in the middle of the crowd. “Isolate us now – cry in November.”
Keeping the Peace
The key thing is that it wasn’t the kind of fight that sometimes breaks out at state Republican conventions and has repercussions for fall campaigns. Those with long memories recall the notorious 1992 Washington state convention, in which factionalism was at an extreme. Social conservatives won the upper hand and adopted a platform that not only reflected the full social-issue agenda but also sought to ban, among other things, the teaching of “witchcraft” in the public schools. The division that year served mainly to help Democrats, as Republican activists stayed home and the Dems swept races in the fall. On Saturday, state Republican chairman Kirby Wilbur noted that the Louisiana state convention, held the same day as this year’s Washington-state event, ended in open warfare, as police were called and cleared the room with mace. No delegates were elected in the Pelican State. “I thank you all for being civilized,” he said from the podium.
Afterward, Wilbur said, “We came out united, and we’re going to win in November. All in all, it was a very positive convention.”
Takes Full Day
Delegate selection took the full day, and to many observers it appeared a chaotic process, because a barely functioning public-address system turned the Tacoma convention center into an echo chamber. But there was a method to it. Ten at-large positions were available Saturday. Another 30 positions were filled in congressional-district breakout sessions Friday. Some 260 people signed up to run in Saturday’s voting, and each was allowed 30 seconds to speak. It appeared that most were backing Paul. Every now and then one could pick out a word from the murky audio about Ron Paul and liberty, or somewhat less often, about Mitt Romney and the serpent of big government.
Each side distributed copies of its candidate slate, and Romney forces overcame the problems with the public address system as volunteers held up “Yes” and “No” signs at appropriate points during voting on procedural motions. Ultimately the entire Romney slate was elected. The Paul forces won their five delegates during the Friday caucus voting. Rick Santorum won one. Because the three delegates who were guaranteed a free ride to Tampa Bay, the state chair and national committeeman and committeewoman, announced their support for Romney, that gave Romney a total 37 votes from Washington.
Watching from the back of the room, alternate Tom Dodgson of Mountlake Terrace – ‘Tea Party Tom,’ he calls himself – said that the grass-roots Paul activists eventually will have their day. “Our government is a two-headed snake right now, Democrats and Republicans, and there is no way that we are going to be strong enough to cut the heads off the snake. They way they’re treating us right now, we have the Ron Paul fire in our belly, and now it is going to be a volcano. And we’ve all made a promise that when we are in control, we won’t treat them the way they are treating us. Ron Paul wouldn’t do that. He is about freedom and liberty.”
On to November
Now that the voting is over, it’s a matter of bringing people together behind the Republican standard-bearer, said former state Republican chairwoman Diane Tebelius, the western Washington co-chair for the Romney campaign. The voting for delegates isn’t meant to provide a proportional split of delegates – it’s designed to elect the winner.
“That is what the goal is,” she said. “Everyone knows that one of the things you can do by working on a campaign is trying to be elected as a delegate to the national convention. And so you work hard, and if your candidate wins, well then, maybe you have a chance to be elected as a delegate. There is nothing fair or unfair about it. It is a process that goes on in the Democratic Party and goes on in the Republican Party. It has gone on for years, it is the way the world of politics works, and no one is trying to be mean or not inclusive. It is just part of the real world of politics.”
But state Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, co-chairman of the Washington state Paul campaign, said it was a big disappointment that his side couldn’t make a deal. His side had hoped to negotiate for a 7-3 or 8-2 split of the delegates available Saturday, but the other team wasn’t willing. “I think these guys would have been smart to give us a few,” he said.
“They had an opportunity to reach out and rejoin the party, and they didn’t do so, and I think that is a complete failure on their part. I don’t think it is serious, other than that there are a lot of disappointed people that are not represented. They may come back or they may not. But they worked very hard to get here, and I don’t think they received their acknowledgement. Hopefully we’ll come back here in two years with twice as many people and set things straight.”