Opinion

GOP candidates light up Washington state | Bob Roegner

Last week, the Northwest got a brief moment to bask in the sun of national presidential politics as all four remaining Republican candidates visited our state in advance of the March 3 caucuses.

The visits lacked the sonic boom that signaled President Obama’s visit last summer, due to an errant pilot’s wandering into the no-fly zone. But it was still high drama.

Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, it is pretty exciting to see and hear a president or a candidate for president.

After the Legislature cut funding from the state budget for the primary, some wondered if the candidates would actually venture to the farthest corner of the lower 48. But come they did.

Front-runner Mitt Romney, who has been having trouble convincing the party faithful that he is the man to carry the Republican banner, was in Bellevue. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum made regional stops, and Mayor Skip Priest and school board president Tony Moore welcomed Newt Gingrich to Federal Way. Nevermind that Romney won comfortably or that Newt finished fourth — a candidate visited our city!

But the truly big news for Republicans was the turnout at the caucuses. It was significant. In some cases, two or three times the expected level. And the big turnout was repeated statewide. Some locations actually turned people away.

Republican leaders believe this is the forerunner to a the fall election and that the electorate is angry. Despite leading, Romney has not connected with average voters the way that other candidates have.

Paul, Santorum and Gingrich supporters all exhibit passion for their candidate and their views. That seems to be lacking from Romney supporters.

Pragmatists, moderates and mainstream Republicans lean toward Romney because he is viewed as the most “electable” due to his potential appeal to independents, who will be key voters in November.

A majority of Republican voters still favor someone other than Romney and are having trouble warming to him. The reasons vary, but “not a real conservative” and an inability to connect with blue collar workers and evangelicals are high on the list.

But many Romney supporters and some uncommitted leaders are asking: Which is more important, nominating a candidate with a conservative ideology who might lose to President Obama, or nominating Romney, who might have a chance of winning?

In our state, and nationally, elections are usually decided by which way moderate independents vote.

In his zeal to win the nomination, Romney has been trying to reinvent himself as a conservative. And that begs the second question: Has that pushed him so far to the right that the independent voters will move back toward Obama in November?

Four years ago, part of John McCain’s attraction was his maverick streak that appealed to independents from both sides of the political spectrum. As the campaign wore on, McCain seemed to move farther to the right to demonstrate his conservative credentials. Some believe that may have cost him the middle-ground voters that went to Obama. Is it happening again?

Some are also concerned that the Republican brand is being hurt by the protracted primary — and the candidates’ weaknesses are being exploited by one another. No matter who wins the nomination, the Obama campaign will flood the airwaves with commercials using negative quotes from the other Republican contenders.

In 2008, the energy was on the Democratic side. This year, it is on the Republican side. But is Romney capable of capturing that energy, and actually uniting the party in anything other than name only? Would a convention endorsement of Romney by Newt Gingrich really be believable?

Super Tuesday didn’t bring the clarity some Republicans had hoped for, and Democrats are enjoying the Republican primary almost as much as the Republicans. And the longer it goes on, the better they like it.

November is still a long way away. A number of events could change the dynamics.

No matter what happens this fall, it was still fun to see our state in the national news and watch democracy in action.

 

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