VANCOUVER — If tea party activists felt miffed Friday at not getting to see Republican U.S. Senate candidates Clint Didier and Dino Rossi face off for the first time, they didn’t show it.
Rossi arrived on time, but Didier didn’t, instead hopping a flight to Richland for an unplanned 90-minute midafternoon strategy meeting with his best-known backer, Sarah Palin.
When he did finally arrive at the Patriot Coalition rally, the 150 people greeted him with a roar and no sign of disappointment.
“She said, ‘Forge ahead,’ ” Didier reported, triggering another burst of applause.
Friday’s event, on the eve of the state Republican Party convention, drew together newly energized conservatives who are filling the ranks of tea party chapters and the Campaign for Liberty, a national organization born out of Ron Paul’s 2008 bid for president. They also are among the 1,200 delegates attending the convention.
Didier and Rossi were the only two Senate candidates who addressed, then answered questions from the group.
This certainly wasn’t Rossi’s crowd as the polite but restrained welcome reflected.
“This (campaign) was not what I planned on doing eight months ago,” he began.
Passage of the federal health care bill started him thinking about it and his family gave him the final push, urging him in if he thought he could make a difference.
“A lot is at stake. It’s just the future of the Free World at stake,” he said.
Rossi, because of two previous runs for governor, is better known and likely to be better financed than Didier in their bids to unseat Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. For Didier, the convention is an opportunity to prove his relevance in the remaining two months of the campaign. Palin’s visit helps by stealing a bit of the spotlight from Rossi.
“It is not about me,” Rossi told the crowd. “It is not about other candidates. This is about removing Patty Murray from the U.S. Senate.”
Didier arrived two hours after Rossi left. When he did, the excitement in the room was palpable.
“This is our country and, by God, we’re going to take it back,” he said, igniting a round of applause and cheers.
Where Rossi avoided direct answers to most of the questions, Didier didn’t, and his answers were what they wanted to hear.
For example, on whether each backed Arizona’s controversial law dealing with immigrants, Rossi responded that the nation needs a “tall fence and high gate” to deal with those crossing into the country illegally.
Didier simply said, “Yes ma’am, I am 100 percent behind it.”
On whether to audit or ax the Federal Reserve, Rossi said audit then decide while Didier said, “After we get done auditing it, we need to get rid of it.”
The two differed sharply on whether the United States should leave the United Nations.
Rossi said the U.S. should “be careful” about a pullout and look to use its veto power to deal with other countries.
Didier said, “I want the United States out of the U.N. and the U.N. out of the United States.’
Moments after Didier departed, organizers revealed results of a straw poll of the race. To no one’s surprise, Didier picked up 99 votes and Rossi had 12.
“I was impressed with Clint because he says what’s on his mind and what’s in his heart,” said Jay Devereaux of Snohomish, who helped develop the Washington Patriot Hub website that is helping the various activist groups unite.
“I don’t feel like I get that from Dino Rossi. I feel like he calculates how what he says will affect the polls,” he said.
Kelly Emerson of Camano Island, a tea party activist and Island County Commissioner candidate, said “It’s really going to be a battle.”
She predicted the two camps will unite following the primary and give the party a good shot at unseating Murray.
“The competition is going to make both of them better candidates,” she said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.