Future of state GOP may be decided in precinct battles

Winners of the least visible contests in the primary could change the direction of the Republican Party in Snohomish County and even the state.

In dozens of neighborhoods this past election, those in power fended off those who want it in battles for precinct committee officer, which are the political party’s human antennae into communities and operational foot soldiers for campaigns.

To the victors will also go the important spoil of picking leaders for the county party later this year and the state GOP in January.

That’s what motivated libertarian-minded backers of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and fans of conservative former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum to seek precinct seats in Snohomish County and across the state. For many, it meant taking on fellow Republicans backed by the establishment, including incumbent precinct officers.

They did so because they’re upset with the focus of the Republican Party. They say the party needs to do a better job supporting candidates for state and federal office who will campaign on the principles of the party platform rather than willingness to compromise as a pragmatic route to winning.

Not every precinct committee officer seat was up for grabs. In Snohomish County, about 400 Republicans signed up to run for precinct officer and the majority faced no opponent.

There were around 70 Republican precinct contests in the primary. Of those, about 50 pitted a Paul or Santorum supporter against someone supported by current party leadership. That’s a lot of contests for one party in one election. By comparison, fewer than a dozen Democratic precinct seats landed on the ballot.

Paul supporters know they won’t win them all. They only need to win enough to be a numeric force in December when all the precinct officials gather to elect new leaders for the county party.

“We did well,” said Michelle McIntyre of Everett, a vocal Paul supporter and a victorious precinct candidate. “The Ron Paul people and the other conservatives are going to have a strong presence at the reorganization meeting.”

Snohomish County GOP Chairman Bill Cooper acknowledged their ranks will be slightly larger. He sought to downplay any proposition this is solely about overthrow.

“We’re pretty happy with the outcome,” he said. “I would not describe it as a palace coup. I think it was much more about people wanting to get involved. It shows people are energized and ready to work.”

Snohomish County is one of several battlegrounds this primary.

In Clark County in southwest Washington, the PCO Liberty Alliance, whose motto is “Because People Should Lead the Party,” set up a website on which they supported candidates committed to the group’s objectives.

In King County, the insurgent threat rattled a few nerves. The King County Republican Party endorsed candidates for precinct committee officer then mailed voters a postcard — funded by the Washington State Republican Party — with their recommendation.

Party bosses consider the insurgency large enough for worry yet too small for fear. They said they expect Paul backers will get their hands on a few levers of power but not enough to pull off an overthrow come January.

“Am I worried?” said GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur. “No, not really. This just shows there is a healthy party out there. We had all these contests because there is something at stake.”

Yeah, control of the Republican Party and his job at its helm.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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