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November 16, 2007

Republicans wait to see who emerges as nominee

Posted by David Postman at 9:41 AM

I went to the King County Republican fall dinner last night to hear Mike Huckabee speak. There was also a media availability with the former Arkansas governor. The story I wrote along with Sherry Grindeland didn't make the homepage this morning, but you can read it here.

I learned this: Many Republicans remain undecided about the race for their party's presidential nominee. And they're not just undecided, but decidedly lackadaisical about the GOP race. It's not that they don't like their choices. But in talking to Republicans and looking for tell-tale signs of buttons and stickers among the crowd, it's clear that few have made up their minds. And most of the Republicans I talked to last night said they'd be enthusiastic about whichever candidate emerged as the nominee — as long as he could beat Hillary Clinton.

Some of this laissez faire approach may come from a creeping pessimism among Republicans about 2008. Huckabee addressed that in his speech:

I'll tell you, Republicans have had a pretty tough couple of years. And one of the reasons is because a lot of folks went to Washington and they forgot what they were told to do. We didn't control spending. We didn't fix the borders. We didn't come up with alternatives for domestically produced energy that helps us be free. We didn't really change the tax system. We didn't fight corruption. We didn't show a level of really functional government that managed crises and did the kind of things that people really expect us to do.

And as a result, last fall Republicans took a thrashing. And unfortunately there are some Republicans who think, 'Oh, our brand has been irreparably damaged and we're going to have a tough time in '08.' Well, believe that if you will. I am convinced that if we remember who we are, get back to our principles and articulate them to the American people, then for the same reasons we once had a majority of the governorships and the House and the Senate and the White House and the state legislatures, we'll have it again. Because this country does look for leadership that is clear, that has vision for the future.

Huckabee is a nice guy and delivered one of the most positive speeches I've heard from a presidential candidate. There was virtually no criticism of any individual, and more self-critique of Republican failings than attacks on Democrats. (And I didn't catch one reference to the "Democrat Party," so Huckabee may not have gotten the GOP talking points.)

The tone of the speech could explain the muted response to Huckabee. It was polite of course. Huckabee may have entertained the crowd and inspired some, but no one was jumping to their feet and you couldn't say he revved up the base.

Maybe it's just the professionals who are revved up. In the lobby of the Westin last night, two local conservative talk show hosts had an impromptu debate about the candidacies of Huckabee and Fred Thompson.

KVI's Kirby Wilbur is a self-described "Fred Head" and has backed Thompson since before the former Tennessee senator entered the race. KTTH's Dave Boze backs Huckabee.

Wilbur called Huckabee a "pro-life Democrat." Boze thinks Thompson's running a lazy campaign. Wilbur would even back Rudy Giuliani over Huckabee, saying at least he knows where Giuliani stands on the issues. Not Boze, who scoffed at Giuliani's conservative credentials.

Wilbur: Here's the fundamental truth: This country will never elect an ordained minister. I don't think they will. I think that's against Huckabee, he's an ordained minister.

Boze: He can brag about getting 48 percent of the African American vote in Arkansas.

Wilbur: And he can brag about coming from Hope, Arkansas. What happened last time we elected a president from Hope, Arkansas?

Nearby was Joe Fuiten, pastor of Bothell's Cedar Park Church, who endorsed Huckabee Thursday. He obviously disagreed with Wilbur's claim that a minister is unelectable in America. Fuiten said:

"Because you were once a pastor means you turn off the rest of your brain?"

Huckabee's Republican critics say he's too liberal and that as governor he pushed to expand government programs and raised taxes. Huckabee argued that he also cut taxes. But his supporters don't shy away from the tax increases. In introducing Huckabee at the King County dinner last night, Sarah Rinlaub pointed out that the governor raised taxes to pay for road construction. (Not an applause line.)

And Fuiten, too, said tax increases for transportation or even to expand children's health programs are not at all disqualifiers for someone backed by evangelical Christians.

"You can't just say you oppose homosexual rights and oppose abortion and then not care about children. You can't be a Christian or just a good person part of the time."

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