If this week’s Republican state convention in Tacoma ends up a drama-free ratification of the party’s presumptive nominee, it will be because of conservatives like Rick Bauer.
The Spanaway car salesman and tea party activist hopes the convention will pick him as one of Washington’s 43 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. And as recently as early May, Bauer was sticking with his favored candidate, the defeated Rick Santorum.
But last week he said he had relented in the spirit of party unity and would support Mitt Romney, whom Santorum endorsed and whom Bauer sees as the right man to juice the economy.
“I look at it like this: Ronald Reagan, one of the smartest things he ever said is, if they’re 80 percent with you, they’ve got to be your friend,” Bauer said. After all, he said, “Most husbands and wives are lucky to hit 80 percent on the issues.”
“So I can work with Romney. We’re at least 80 percent, so I can work with that just fine.”
Among the more than 2,000 Republicans gathering today through Saturday for their first state convention in Tacoma since 1988, Santorum supporters will be key in the outcome, state party chairman Kirby Wilbur said.
And they seem to be falling in line behind Romney, said Bauer and Ron Paul organizer James Caswell.
The libertarian-minded Paul is the main alternative. The Texas congressman will start with the support of at least a quarter of the more than 1,600 delegates on the floor of the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, Wilbur estimates, while Romney starts with about half the delegates supporting him.
“I think this one’s a little bit up in the air,” Wilbur said.
A little bit, maybe. But few, if any, Republicans are predicting Romney will suffer an embarrassing loss in Washington. Romney clinched the Republican nomination on Tuesday with a win in the Texas primary, taking at least 97 delegates to surpass the 1,144 he needed.
Romney and Paul supporters alike figure the former Massachusetts governor is likely to walk away with the majority of this state’s delegates headed to Tampa, just as he won a nonbinding statewide poll taken at local caucuses.
“We’re contesting every delegate,” said Caswell, a mechanic. “We’re organized. We have slates. But we’re not overly optimistic as far as, we understand we’re probably not going to take the majority – but we’re going to get the ones that we can.”
Caswell said he expects to add at least six to nine delegates to Paul’s totals.
Ten national delegates are elected Saturday statewide, where Romney has the clear advantage. They join Wilbur and two other party leaders, plus three elected Friday from each of Washington’s 10 congressional districts. Paul supporters built up delegates at local caucuses and county conventions and seem likely to do well at least in the 7th District of Seattle and the 3rd District of Southwest Washington.
Romney supporters are confident they’ll prevail.
“I think it’s going to be an affirmation of the values that Gov. Romney brings to the campaign and will bring to the office,” said Don Anderson, a Lakewood city councilman and Romney volunteer organizer.
Drama or no drama, there will be plenty for Republicans to do in Tacoma:
• Hear speeches from candidates for office and from conservative commentator Michelle Malkin.
• Attend training for candidates and activists and workshops on major issues.
• Decide the party’s official philosophy and positions on issues of the day, in the form of a platform and resolutions.
“It’s to focus the party and focus the activists on the challenge ahead,” state committeewoman Andrea Innes said of the convention’s purpose, “and send people back to the hinterlands with extra energy and enthusiasm to support our nominee.”