For local Republicans, a buffet of choices

While the presidential primaries are still months away, you wouldn’t know it by the media attention paid to the top candidates all across the political spectrum. With this in mind Keizerites have plenty to say about their choices. This is part two of a two-part feature highlighting Keizer residents’ opinions on Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls alike. This week: the Republicans.

Republicans in Keizer aren’t too concerned about any fallout from President George W. Bush’s low approval ratings carrying over to the 2008 presidential elections.

While the common sentiment seems to be that none of the candidates match up exactly with their views, Republicans have a bevy of choices before them in the GOP primary.

There’s former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Senator John McCain, R – Ariz., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani among the top-tier candidates, all of whom show some stark differences. The Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa, saw former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee take second place, which has generated media attention he hopes will catapult him into contention with the top candidates.

Among the so-called lower-tier candidates there are those banking on evangelical support (Rep. Duncan Hunter, R – Calif.), the anti-war Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and the virulently anti-illegal immigration candidate Tom Tancredo. And then, of course, there’s the “will he or won’t he” pseudo-candidate Fred Thompson, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee perhaps best known for his role as District Attorney Arthur Branch on “Law and Order.”

Giuliani’s stance on security and the economy dazzled the Keizer Republicans interviewed, but his stances on gun control and abortion could cost him, said Russ Walker, vice-chair for the state Republican Party and state director of Freedomworks, a conservative activist organization.

He said he would be “happy” with Giuliani as a candidate, but thinks his pro-choice stance and advocating tighter gun-control laws while mayor of New York City will cost him the GOP primary.

“Those two issues create problems for him in the Republican base,” Walker said.

Lois Anderson, political director of Oregon Right to Life, called Giuliani “troublesome.”

However, Giuliani’s high poll numbers and strong fundraising have created a bit of a divide between those who believe Giuliani has the best chance to beat the Democratic candidate and those who seek a stricter adherence to right-wing positions on abortion and gun control.

“One is that he can win, so we need to take what we can get, and he’s the one that can win,” Anderson said. “And then there’s others that say it’s a primary and we can vote for the person who best reflects our beliefs.”

She said Giuliani’s high numbers reflect “a lot of diversity in the Republican voting bloc.”

Huckabee’s showing in Iowa might prove William Coffey, a self-described “staunch Republican” who serves in the Marine Corps reserves, correct. While not discussing Huckabee specifically, he said prior to the straw poll that a candidate who wasn’t receiving much attention at the time could emerge.

“If you think about it, right now, the people who are the frontrunners may collapse in the next six, seven months,” Coffey said. “… Probably the ones in the best position right now are the ones who may be coming from behind.”

Thompson may not need to come from behind at all. He displays a strong showing in polls, but it’s still anyone’s guess as to when the lawyer-turned-actor-turned-politician will actually declare his candidacy.

“Thompson is generating a lot of buzz,” Coffey said. “If you’re not even a declared candidate, no one’s going to take the time to attack you.”

But Walker thinks Thompson has already waited too long.

“I think he’s probably a very good candidate on a lot of issues … (but) he has sided with trial lawyers on tort reform during his time in politics,” Walker said. “I think he’s so late coming into the game he’s going to have trouble raising money, getting volunteers in the early states. If he can’t do that, it doesn’t matter.”

Too, Walker thinks Giuliani’s positions on some key issues will cost him the nomination, despite his impressive showing in nationwide polls.

“What matters is the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina,” Walker said. “And if you look at that, really the guy leading the pack is Mitt Romney.”

Romney won the Iowa straw poll, with Giuliani and McCain choosing to sit out the event. A sixth-place showing by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson precluded his exit from the race the next day.

Walker said that if he were to wager on the race he’d put his money on Romney. He said Romney has the right positions and a campaign structure fully in place to deliver the early primary states.

“If you listen to what he has to say, (Mitt) really understands the economy,” Walker said. “… He understands the type of things that need to be done to create jobs in Oregon and around the country.”

Anderson described Romney’s conversion from supporting abortion rights to opposing the procedure as “an ah-ha moment.”

“From my perspective, I think we have to give politicians a little bit of grace,” Anderson said. “They can change their minds every once in a while. They’re human beings, like we are. I would say that he is a decent alternative for a person who’s pro-life.”

Anderson said the chances of a Republican taking the White House hinges on what happens in Iraq – an issue associated squarely with Bush.

“The overarching issue in this election is Iraq, and probably that’s what it should be just because it’s the most pressing issue,” Anderson said, although she said this makes it “difficult” for other issues to receive a serious airing.

But Walker and Coffey say the 2006 elections, which saw Democrats take back both houses of Congress, won’t have much of an effect by the time November 4, 2008 rolls around.

“This last election cycle was a mandate about Bush, and he won’t be running again,” Walker said. “You’ll have a new leader of the party, and I think with that we’ll have a fresh start.”