Vancouver, Wash. - Republican star Dino Rossi's entrance into the U.S. Senate race hasn't dampened tea party support for Clint Didier. Nor has it persuaded Didier to move toward the political center.
Didier, the Sarah Palin-endorsed candidate in the race against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, overwhelmingly won a straw poll of 113 tea party supporters meeting Friday down the street from the Vancouver, Wash., hotel where Republicans held their state convention.
The former Washington Redskins tight end from Eastern Washington received standing ovations at the start and end of his speech. The crowd, invited by Washington members of the national Campaign for Liberty group, was more subdued but still enthusiastic when Rossi spoke earlier.
They were responding, in part, to Didier’s full-throated advocacy of shrinking the federal government.
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After Rossi told the crowd he supports auditing the Federal Reserve, Didier one-upped him – and brought the crowd to its feet again – by saying the nation’s central bank should be abolished.
“We didn’t hear Dino say that,” one member of the crowd yelled.
“We didn’t hear Dino say anything,” another shouted.
Rossi didn’t go as far as Didier in staking out his positions, but their answers to the same questions drew sharp contrasts.
Didier called for pulling the United States out of the United Nations, while Rossi said remaining a part of the world body allows the country to veto any of its “crazy” proposals.
Rossi said he would want to see a “full exit strategy” before voting to fund the Afghan war. Didier said generals should get all the troops they want.
Asked about abortion rights, Didier said he would protect life at conception and oppose any Supreme Court nominee who doesn’t.
Rossi resisted being defined as pro-life: “My wife and I are both Catholic and believe every soul has a value,” he said. Questioned by reporters afterward, he said he has always “protected life” but declined to say whether a woman should have a right to an abortion.
Didier proclaimed his support for the Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigration and added that the Constitution may need a change to end the right to automatic citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.
Asked about the Arizona law, Rossi shifted to federal policy, calling for “a tall fence and a high gate” to keep illegal immigrants out while allowing people to enter legally.
PALIN VISITS STATE
In the straw poll, Didier received 99 votes to Rossi’s 12. Bellingham inventor Paul Akers, who didn’t attend, received a vote, as did Craig Williams, who has dropped out of the race.
Didier flew to the event after an impromptu meeting with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the Tri-Cities, where her uncle and aunt live, Didier said.
He said Palin didn’t urge him to drop out now that the better-known Rossi has entered the race. “On the contrary,” he said, “she’s saying, ‘Forge ahead.’”
Republicans estimated that more than 1,600 people packed the Hilton in downtown Vancouver for the convention.
“This is my 10th state convention, and I’ve never seen so much excitement,” said Rick Bauer, a Republican and tea party activist from Spanaway. He wore buttons saying “I’m Tea’d and I vote” and “I miss Reagan” on his blue polo shirt.
While tea party members say their movement is independent from the Republican Party – and includes many conservative Democrats in its ranks – they were a presence at the convention. There are unlikely to be any of them at the Democratic convention in two weeks, Bauer said. That’s because Republicans’ belief in smaller government aligns with the tea party’s, said Debra Churchill- Pelletier, an activist from Issaquah.
Tea party members also gathered separately Friday and will seek to have input today as delegates hammer out the Republican Party’s platform.
The movement and its candidates, such as Didier, could pull the party to the right even as it seeks to pry away Democratic and independent voters. Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser said he’s not worried.
“The Republican Party has always been energized from the right, whether it was Goldwater Republicans or Reagan Republicans or the Republican Revolution of 1994,” he said.
COUNTY REPUBLICANS ATTEND
Hundreds of people packed the central hall of the convention, where GOP campaigns for Congress set up tables. Candidates, their aides and party activists took notes at a “campaign school” workshop.
Steve O’Ban, a Tacoma Republican running against state Rep. Troy Kelley, appreciated the advice. The attorney and conservative activist is a first-time candidate. Building a campaign “is like starting a small business from the ground up,” O’Ban said.
Some were attending a convention for the first time.
Deborah Sims of Tacoma is involved with her first campaign, for a Tacoma candidate for state House, Jon Higley. Her husband, Richard, has been going door to door for Higley, while Deborah bakes cookies for the canvassers.
“We’ve never been involved in anything like this before,” Deborah Sims said. She came to Vancouver to learn about candidates. “It’s just a moral responsibility a person has … You need to know who you’re voting for and what their priorities are – and not find out 18 months later.”