The politics of liberal-to-moderate Washington state fit Mitt Romney like, well, a mitten, so it would have been shocking if he hadn't won Saturday's GOP caucuses.
There was some real passion on display at the GOP caucuses Saturday. Just not for the winner.
“This is R.I.P. GOP!” fumed Nigel Featherston, a Republican precinct committee officer who voted along with about 300 others at the VFW hall in Redmond Saturday. “I’m fed up with my party nominating liberals. But we’re doing it again!”
Mitt Romney easily won Saturday’s presidential straw poll here. That’s great news for his campaign, especially since the politics of liberal-to-moderate Washington state fit Mitt like, well, a mitten. He ought to win here. A defeat would have been big national news.
But his victory, out in the trenches, arrived with about as much fire as a corporate board meeting.
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In Redmond, most of the stemwinder speeches and arguments were on behalf of other candidates, namely Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. When Featherston, a software engineer, announced to his precinct that he was running to be a delegate to the national convention so he could “boo Romney off the stage,” the others didn’t defend Romney. They looked at their shoes.
The Paul supporters, or Ronulans, held vocal sway over the event. They challenged the rules, argued to end the Federal Reserve and debated foreign policy. One precinct group, led by Romney backer Doug White, was so swamped by the Ronulans that Romney’s case for the presidency was scarcely heard.
But Romney still won. He won statewide. He also won the Redmond caucus I attended by 42 percent to 35 percent over Paul — a result that surprised even Romney backers in the room.
“It sure didn’t feel like Romney was winning,” said Justin Kawabori, the GOP’s 48th District chairman, a Mitt backer who oversaw the Redmond voting. “You definitely see a lot more passion for Santorum or Paul.
“Romney is just more practical, with more executive leadership. Quietly, that appeals to people.”
Is quiet appeal enough to win an election?
I think this GOP nomination show is over. It’s being kept alive mostly now by the press — we do love a good show — and by substantial parts of the Republican Party that truly do yearn for someone more conservative.
Yes, Romney will lose some key primaries in the coming week, such as in the South. But it won’t matter. He’s the nominee — if for no other reason than the rest of the field is the weakest in memory.
That said, at the caucuses Saturday it was a little hard to envision Romney sweeping to victory in November. People voted for him, but they did so with a shrug. It reminded me of the feeling in the room in 2004 when Democrats nominated John Kerry.
“That’s what they’re all saying, that Romney’s the only electable one, so just choose him,” Featherston, the anti-Romney, said. “But that’s not making a case for him. That’s not getting anyone pumped up.”
True. Though so far it’s been good enough to win.
Maybe what Romney needs to do is embrace his inner stiff. Stop trying to be exciting and dynamic (because that clearly doesn’t work). Go around the country doing PowerPoint presentations or something. Be the candidate of the quiet, steady appeal.
It’d be different. More important, it would be authentic. Which was not a word I heard applied once to Romney on his big day Saturday.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.