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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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February 15, 2008 11:55 AM

Road trip: What Republicans are saying about Tuesday's primary

Posted by David Postman

LACEY, Thurston County - I’m on a mini-tour to see what Republicans are thinking about Tuesday’s presidential primary. The Democrats will ignore the results on their side. But Republicans will apportion a bit more than half their delegates based on what voters say.

Tuesday night I went to the Thurston County Lincoln Day Dinner at St. Martin's College. This isn’t the same as stopping people at random as I did on trips through eastern and southwest Washington. As I hit a couple of Republican meetings over the next few days I hope to get a sense of what Republican regulars say about what’s left of the GOP fight for the nomination.

There were a few signs up for Dino Rossi and for GOP treasurer candidate Allan Martin. But I didn’t see any signs for presidential candidates. I didn’t spot any campaign buttons, even. But when I walked up to Bob and Esther Higley I noticed that Bob was sporting a small, enamel pin for Mike Huckabee.

The Higleys are big Huckabee supporters. Bob, 75, used to lobby in Olympia for one of Pastor Joe Fuiten’s groups. He’s retired from that now, as he did earlier from Boeing. The Higleys caucused for Huckabee Saturday and their primary votes are for Huckabee, too. Bob told me:

I think it’s pretty early to have a coronation and it’s good to have an alternative, and some competition.

What’s his objection to John McCain?

He did not support our president on a lot of issues.

But the couple's support of Huckabee is more than just a protest. Esther, 76, is a retired nurse. She said that they went to hear Huckabee’s wife, Janet, speak at the Olympia IHOP last week and were impressed by what they heard. Huckabee, a former pastor, has a lot to offer to the Highleys. Esther said that includes,

His values for the family, for the unborn. He believes the way we do.

Gene Pardee is a relative newcomer to Thurston County Republican politics. He moved here a few years back from Orange County, the most Republican county in the nation. He lives in unincorporated Thurston County, in the foothills above liberal, Democratic, Olympia. He was at the GOP dinner taking photographs - he’s a professional - and enjoying the crowd.

It’s heartening just to see other Republicans.

Pardee, 61, is a tall man with a Lincolnesqe beard. I asked him if he had settled on a presidential candidate. He said he was confident that McCain would be the nominee.

Was that his first choice?

Oh, absolutely not.

He started out supporting Fred Thompson. Last week he caucused for Huckabee. And, in fact, he plans to vote for Huckabee again Tuesday.

It’s to send a signal to the party, to keep to the right.

The private sector and churches, Pardee says, should do more and government should do less.

I don’t see the government as being the answer for a lot of stuff. In most things the government doesn’t do as good a job as the private sector.

What will he do after Tuesday when there’s no more chances to lodge a protest vote?

Then it’s flat-out for McCain.

He’s ready to support McCain and says he understands why McCain isn’t as conservative as he’d like.

A senator has to compromise and reach across and part of being in the Senate is working things out. That’s built into his nature at this point.

That doesn’t make for an ideologically pure candidate. I asked Pardee if he was concerned about the controversy over the caucus vote bewteen Huckabee and McCain or whether he was OK with how it was handled by state party Chairman Luke Esser.

Am I OK with it? It happened. But we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

The controversy over Esser’s calling the election for McCain has died down. But there’s no doubt that the GOP’s drumbeat that the 2004 gubernatorial election was stolen from Rossi gave Esser’s critics ammunition.

Indeed, the Huckabee campaign specifically mentioned the 2004 election controversy in suggesting that Esser needed to ensure a fair count. And the language from the Huckabee campaign echoed Republicans’ complaints circa 2004.

Our cause is just. We must reemphasize the sacred American principle that all ballots be counted in a free, fair, and transparent manner

It’s clear state Republicans are still seeped in the now fermenting discontent of the 2004 election. And some of that made for a rougher time for Esser following the caucus vote. And now he has to take a little of the joking that has been aimed largely at King County’s election office.

At the Lincoln Day dinner, master of ceremonies John Darby introduced Esser and gave him a present of an abacus, suggesting, “Maybe he can find a use for it.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed was at the dinner, too. He told me he expects the outcome on the Republican side to be “vastly different” than the close McCain/Huckabee finish in the caucus.

McCain backers are confident their man will show well Tuesday. Alex Hays, executive director of Mainstream Republicans of Washington, told me at dinner that he’s confident McCain will be the Republican’s nominee.

“It’s a done deal,” he said. That doesn’t mean everyone’s on board. Hays recognizes what he says is angst among the base and “the inclination to say, 'we’re going to show the man.' " That’s what drove the caucus vote for Huckabee, he said, and will drive some to vote Tuesday for the former Arkansas governor. That’s just the way Washington Republicans are, he said.

We have a big screw you faction in the party -- the iconoclastic arm of the party. So everything to them is a useless gesture. … The more useless it is the more they like it because it shows how pure they are.

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