Northwest Republicans hope for big bounce from Bush’s presence

Here’s what Republican delegates from Oregon and Washington think voters need to see in New York City next week: a more concentrated dose of President Bush and the people who support him.

That, many delegates say, is just what they are seeking to turn what has been a close presidential race decisively in Bush’s direction.

That could seem odd to casual voters, who may think the president and his policies have received plenty of attention in the past 31/2 years. But interviews with several Republican delegates from the two states make clear that they eagerly anticipate a week in which Bush can take center stage amid an adoring audience and a string of congratulatory speeches.

“The Democrats set a tough standard here. I give them credit for having a good convention,” said Kevin Mannix, chairman of the Oregon Republican Party. “We want to match it or do it better. . . . It’s the launch platform for the president’s message.”

Many grass-roots Republicans think Bush hasn’t been given the opportunity to make his case in full. The Democrats had a spirited primary season early in the year, while the president grappled with a series of crises in Iraq. Then the Democrats had a burst of publicity when John Kerry picked his vice presidential nominee, John Edwards, on July 6 and again for a week in late in July during the party’s Boston convention.

“If you look at Bush throughout his presidency, when he has some free time on TV in front of people, he does very well,” said Ryan Hart, an instructional designer for a high-tech company and a Washington delegate from Vancouver. “It’s a real opportunity to remind people again of the strength of leadership that he brings to the White House.”

Mannix noted that many undecided voters won’t watch long stretches of the convention. But if they tune in for a few minutes a night, that can make an impact over the course of the week, he said.

Highly scripted event

The delegates’ concern about how the convention plays out on television is not surprising. The day when nominees were chosen at the conventions is long gone. There is now rarely even debate about the platform. Instead, the conventions are highly scripted, visually colorful productions that leave delegates with the chief job of applauding and waving the right signs on cue.

Still, the Republican convention has no trouble attracting committed party activists who had to get elected to their delegate spot and pay their way to New York for the week. Besides being in the middle of the excitement on the convention floor, the delegates will experience a week similar to that of any other large gathering of like-minded people.

When they’re not on the convention floor, delegates go to a lot of parties, workshops and seminars. Every morning, they meet as a delegation and hear from a prominent Republican speaker. One day it might be a senator, the next a governor.

“There’s a real practical reason to have a convention,” said Russ Walker, an Oregon delegate from Keizer. “It’s to get your people charged up.”

Walker is the Oregon director of FreedomWorks, the new name for Citizens for a Sound Economy. The group led the successful drive to overturn a state tax increase approved by the Legislature last year.

Walker said the convention also is important to activists because it gives them a chance to highlight issues that they care passionately about but that may not have received much attention in the day-to-day coverage of the campaign.

“We’ve been talking about the war (against terrorism) nonstop for how long?” Walker said. “I want to make sure the issues I care about aren’t forgotten.”

For Walker, that includes hearing Bush renew his call to create private investment accounts within the Social Security system.

For the most part, the delegates from Oregon and Washington are solid conservatives who see themselves as playing a role in ensuring the party sticks to its principles.

“I guess I’m pragmatic enough to see why the party would have so many moderates” given prominent speaking roles in New York, said Joel Mattila, a Vancouver contractor and Washington delegate. “But I don’t want to see the party drift too far to the left.”

Jeff Grossman, the Washington County Republican chairman who is one of Oregon’s two representatives on the national platform committee, said the conservative makeup of the delegates ensures the platform won’t be watered down on big issues such as abortion.

Possible protests stir concern

One big unknown about next week in New York is the extent of the protests. Many of the delegates have never been to the nation’s largest city, and some admit concern about reports that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are converging on New York.

“It is in the back of my mind, but it is something we’re going to face up to,” said Dennis Tooley, a Redmond retiree who will write an online diary for the Republican Party about his experiences as an Oregon delegate.

Tooley and other delegates said they have faith in the security precautions, and they take some comfort in the idea that protests could alienate swing voters watching on television.

Clearly, how the convention plays on television is never far from the conversations of delegates. Several said they were encouraged that Kerry didn’t get much of a bounce in the polls from the Democratic convention.

“If the polls can go from a one- to three-point Kerry edge to a Bush lead of two to four points,” said Hart, the Vancouver delegate, “that obviously means a lot.”

Jeff Mapes: 503-221-8209;