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Conservatives Look Forward to WA GOP Primary

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With 19 delegates in play in Tuesday's primary, local conservatives say they're excited to make their voice heard again in this year's presidential race.

"People will maximize their voice by voting in the primary," said Luke Esser, the state GOP chairman.

After last week's caucuses, in which Ariz. Sen. John McCain narrowly beat former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee, Esser said that every vote really does count.

He drew a distinction between the state GOP and the Democratic Party.

"As Republicans, we respect the will of the voters," he said. A citizen's initiative in 1988 set up a presidential primary in Washington state. The Democratic Party chooses 80 of its 97 delegates based on the caucus results, making its primary mostly symbolic, while 37 of the 40 Republican delegates are chosen based on both the caucus and primary results.

Bob Brunjes, the GOP chairman of the 5th Legislative District, is energized after a "phenomenal" turnout at the caucuses, including his site at Cascade View Elementary in Snoqualmie. "The base is jazzed about this," said Brunjes, a precinct committee officer.

The former Mitt Romney volunteer is now a reluctant McCain supporter. But after Romney endorsed McCain last Thursday, he suspects that many GOP voters like him will feel more comfortable backing the Arizona senator.

"McCain is kind of our pseudo-nominee," he said. But Brunjes also thinks that Huckabee has a role to play in the primary. "Mathematically it's McCain, but people are still making their voice heard," he said.

Dave Irons, the GOP committeeman for King County, is a former Romney fan turned McCain backer.

"As much as this is really a process for the parties to pick a standard-bearer, the voters wanted it," he said. As for McCain, he thinks the presumptive nominee will win fairly easily, but "if he gets under, or if he gets significantly over, 50 percent, it'll be newsworthy," he said.

While he appreciates Huckabee's campaign, he said it's time for people to back McCain.

"I have supported too many nice guys," he said.

Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna, McCain's state committee chairman, said that Tuesday's primary will be a status check on how the candidates are doing in the Northwest at this point in their respective campaigns.

"If McCain wins the primary, it further cements his position," he said.

But the primaries have not always reflected the caucus results.

On the contrary, there are often big differences between the two, because primaries attract a different type of voter than the caucuses, which tend to bring out party activists and political aficionados.

The mostly mail-in primary attracts people who don't have the time or inclination to caucus, McKenna said.

"McCain is doing consistently better in primaries than caucuses, because his supporters are more inclined to vote in primaries," he said. McKenna said the supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Ill. Sen. Barack Obama do better in caucuses, which typically require more grassroots-style organization.

"As a frontrunner, it doesn't matter as much now," he said, referring to a potential McCain win. But momentum does matter, and if McCain wins tomorrow, it will further cement the sense of inevitability surrounding his nomination, McKenna said.

"If he wins the primary, he'll claim he's still attracting independents," and can take that energy into the Texas primary on March 4 and beyond, he said. "He doesn't need delegates at this point, but he could use the momentum."

Maria Lancaster is a small-business owner in Preston and a social conservative. She attended her first caucus last Saturday and got elected, along with her husband and three neighbors, as delegates to the King County convention for Huckabee.

While she stills supports the folksy governor, she's more excited about the process than anything else.

"This is an important time to get engaged," she said. "It's good for our country, because people think they'll have an impact."

That feeling of having an impact is important for getting people out to vote, because the more individuals who participate, on either side of the political spectrum, the better, she said.

"Hasn't it been great to see how our caucuses have gone?" she asked. "I think it's one of the greatest things about America, that we can go and disagree and not shot each other."