In Tacoma for the first state Republican convention in years in which he’s not running for anything, Dino Rossi looked relaxed Wednesday, wearing a button proclaiming, “Dino Knows Mitt is It.”
Regardless of how well he knows his party’s presumptive presidential nominee – Rossi co-chairs Mitt Romney’s campaign in the state – Rossi surely knows the Tacoma area.
The former state senator spent plenty of time here while challenging U.S. Sen. Patty Murray in 2010, and while Murray defeated him by a comfortable margin, he managed to eke out an 1,100-vote win in Pierce County.
“It’s an important county, it really is, and I think it’s trending to the Republican side,” Rossi said. “Candidates just need to do what I did, which is show up.”
Other Republicans also brimmed with confidence that the South Sound will be fertile ground for Republicans, who on Wednesday kicked off their first convention in Tacoma since 1988.
Republicans fill five of the seven Pierce County Council seats and over the past four years have picked up four seats in the county’s delegation in the Legislature, where Democrats still outnumber them.
Pierce County GOP Chairman Bob Lawrence has a piece of trivia about the latter accomplishment. He says his is the only county in a blue state west of the Mississippi River that added Republican legislators in the 2008 and 2010 elections.
The county backed Rob McKenna for attorney general in 2004 and again in 2008 as he cruised to an easy victory over Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. This year, the GOP hopes McKenna can win the governor’s seat.
”Rob McKenna’s not going to win if we don’t get Pierce County,” said Andrea Innes, a GOP state committeewoman from the county. “This is where it’s at for the Republican Party.”
And the convention will be a “magnet” drawing candidates and activists from the South Sound to network and organize, Lawrence said.
He and Innes said county party officials worked hard to lobby for the convention to come to Tacoma, beating out Bellevue and Seattle in a formal bidding process.
Local Republicans were everywhere on the convention’s sparsely attended first day, some delegates wearing the same Romney buttons as Rossi did with their own names filling in the blank.
Lucile Summerlin, president of Lakewood Republican Women, stood out as she walked the halls of the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center in a red hat festooned with windmill fans and two elephants, one with an Uncle Sam hat and one with what she called “Barbara Bush pearls.”
Summerlin turned 65 Wednesday.
“This is how I’m celebrating my birthday,” she said, “having a great, great time with a lot of people that I’ve never met.”