With Washington state's Republican presidential caucuses approaching, GOP voters here appear as divided as they are everywhere else.
As the Republican party’s most-protracted primary season in years rolls into Washington this weekend, GOP voters here appear as divided as they are everywhere else.
Take Doug White and Greg Larson, who both make a living in the housing sector. White, a Realtor, said his choice at Saturday’s GOP caucuses will be easy: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“I like his business success, his experience as governor,” said White, a precinct committee officer in the 48th Legislative District, which includes parts of Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond. “To my mind he comes closer than the others to fitting what we need to fix the economy.”
Larson, who sells construction supplies, isn’t so sure: “Right now I’m undecided, but so far I’d have to say I’m an anybody-but-Romney guy,” he said.
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Coming days before Super Tuesday and on the heels of Romney’s Michigan win this week — a contest in which former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum ran so close that the two may evenly split the state’s delegates — Washington’s caucuses on Saturday may prove more relevant than usual.
Yet interviews this week with a dozen or so Eastside Republicans at a pre-caucus planning session at Bellevue Golf Course revealed few discernible patterns.
“There’s never been a time that I can recall that this caucus has had such a divided field,” said Diane Tebelius, a former federal prosecutor, Republican state party chair and congressional candidate. “I wouldn’t want to try and predict what’s going to happen.”
Among the 50 or so 48th District precinct leaders and others at the caucus-planning event, support could be found for all four remaining GOP contenders. And no single issue — aside from unseating President Obama — seemed to drive voters’ choices.
For White and Larson, their decisions were both guided by a desire for fiscal constraint. But White, who has seen colleagues lose their homes to foreclosure in the worst housing slump in years, worried most about the nominee’s ability to manage the economy. He acknowledged his support has changed over the months as he learned more and more about each candidate.
Larson, meanwhile, had his eye on the rising national debt and what he considered an unruly tax code. He agrees that his fiscal positions often line up most closely to those of Texas Rep. Ron Paul. But he had concerns, too.
“I don’t think Ron Paul campaigns that well,” he said. “He harps on things in a way that sometimes turns people off.”
In fact, if any trend emerged in the discussions with these Eastside Republicans, it would be how many of them confound easy characterizations — perhaps none more than district organizer and precinct committee officer Cynthia Cole.
A lifelong political junkie, Cole paid attention to national party conventions as a young girl and spent hours arguing positions with her father. She grew up to be a Boeing engineer and a staunch Republican — and president of Boeing’s engineers union, SPEEA.
“We’re not all Democrats,” she said with a sly smile. “Part of my role is to remind my party that they shouldn’t dismiss the unions’ voice.”
Cole said she plans to back Santorum, in large part because she feels she knows where he stands. She cares about issues — particularly the economy, immigration and national defense — but what matters most to her is character.
“The presidency changes people — there’s no way to avoid that,” she said. “And I want someone who is consistent. Love him or hate him, he doesn’t really change his views a lot. He makes decisions based on moral conviction.”
And while Santorum, during a debate last week in Arizona, was booed by some for confessing a willingness to compromise, Cole considers that characteristic essential.
“Sometimes a president has got to find consensus,” she said, something she has a perspective on as a Republican who once led collective-bargaining sessions. “He has to ask, ‘Where’s the common ground?’ “
But she also considers the presidency so grueling a job, it actually matters to her that the candidate is physically fit — and for her that rules out former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“You want him to survive the job, and I’m not sure Gingrich fits that mold,” she said.
But for Conrad Rosenburg, a precinct officer from Bellevue, and his wife, JoAnn Rosenburg, in matching yellow rain jackets, Gingrich offers something more essential — leadership experience in dealing with the White House and Congress. JoAnn has not yet entirely made up her mind, but Conrad is an avid fan — and hopes to convince her.
“I’ve watched him speak and I believe he really knows how to do the job best,” Conrad said.
Missy Day, too, has watched Gingrich speak. In fact she’s made an effort to see all the candidates in person — she actually shook Santorum’s hand in Tacoma last week. She saw Romney last month and met Gingrich and his wife in Everett, and hopes to catch a Ron Paul gathering this week.
“I’m looking for a real leader,” she said. “And you can really tell, I think, when you see them talk in person. It’s much different than on television.”
She hasn’t yet settled on a favorite candidate, though.
Day was not much into politics until Obama’s health-care law started gaining ground. As someone who’d recently faced a decision about whether or not to undergo surgery for a serious medical condition, the pace of change and lack of clarity made her uneasy. She surprised herself by becoming a precinct leader.
She doesn’t have much interest in many social-conservative issues but cares deeply about the size of government.
“I just don’t really want the government in my life at all except when I go to the DMV,” she said.
Like most of the precinct officers, she was quick to point out that she ultimately would back whoever becomes the party’s nominee.
Another Republican, Linda Oliver, even said she’d be happy with any of the four — her only objection was to Ron Paul’s foreign policy.
But others conceded they would take their role as a team player only so far, and somewhat grudgingly.
“I’ll support the nominee,” Larson said. “But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @craigawelch.