"It's amazing how passionate some people get," says Curt Fackler, chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party. "And nasty too -- calling people names." Both sides were guilty of waging an unofficial pamphlet war -- painting McCain as a compromising warmonger and Paul as a pro-choice Muslim. "When I see that stuff, I think: Get out of here!" Fackler chuckles. But apart from barbed rhetoric and a few minor glitches, he says he's pleased with how the convention went.
The outcome: Four of the 40 national delegates seated by the state go to Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee gets three, and front-runner John McCain picks up the remaining 33.
Not all was hostility, however. A young couple swing dancing on the mezzanine at the Spokane Convention Center received standing ovations and laughter -- and requests to leave the building -- as they showed that Paul and McCain supporters could get along as one big happy family.
"I always said I wanted to go to the state convention and be the youngest delegate," says 19-year-old Whitney Mortensen of Olympia. She wanted to proceed to the national convention, "but that didn't work out so well," she says. Originally a supporter of Mitt Romney, she's throwing her vote behind McCain. "I'm proud to be LDS and I'd vote for Romney in a heartbeat," she says, "but because he endorsed John McCain, I'm going to follow that."
Her dancing partner was Alex Binz, 18, from the Seattle area. "I supported Ron Paul through the primaries, even though some of his platform seems a little extreme," he says. "I do think he's the most principled of the congressional representatives, just because he's stuck to his guns for a very long time." Binz says that he wants a candidate who adheres to the Constitution instead of simply doing what's expedient, but he'll support the Republican candidate. Mortensen says she'll move to "Canadia" if either Democratic candidate wins.
The halls of the Convention Center were filled with star-spangled neckties with elephant designs and T-shirts declaring "Ron Paul Cured My Apathy." Every Republican running for anything had a booth and a lapel button.
Paul and McCain supporters collided over questions about the Skagit County delegation, with the former arguing that the latter stacked the slate by bending the rules. There was also contention when the chairman called for a two-thirds vote on certain motions, with the Paul supporters citing Republican National Committee rules that it should have been a simple majority (50 percent plus one).
"We even had several McCain people say to us, 'What they're doing with the rules here in Washington just isn't fair,'" says Jeff Whiteside, an organizer of the local Ron Paul Meetup group. "I've been in conventions before, and I've never seen anything like what I've seen today. It was planned, it came from the top down and in a lot of ways we got railroaded," he says. "It seemed like they knew what we would be doing."
While the convention settled down to cocktails and speeches at the banquet on Saturday evening, the Paul supporters held a decidedly more casual party across the water in Riverfront Park. Far from discouraged, Whiteside says he's proud of the national delegates they did secure and that they were successful in educating the wayward McCain supporters on key issues. "We really pushed the fiscal conservatism point home," he says. "We also got a lot of words in about the Constitution and challenged the violation of RNC rules. I think that got people thinking."
Washington State Republican Party chairman Luke Esser says the convention was a "remarkable display of unity" despite the competition. He acknowledged the strength and enthusiasm of the Paul supporters throughout the state and in the Fifth and Third Congressional districts in particular, saying he appreciated their participation.
Asked if the legacy of the Bush administration will have an impact on the McCain campaign, Esser declined to comment, except to say that the state party is focused on the election of Dino Rossi for governor and Republican voter turnout in general. The McCain campaign depends on its own staff and volunteers to address that issue, he says.
"You know, every convention is a little different from the last," Esser says. "We actually got more done in this one than in any convention I can remember. Some years we don't even get all the way through the platform. So we did a lot of work, and I think had a pretty good time doing it. So it was a big success, as far as I'm concerned."