Kerry French, a Republican leader in Pierce County, campaigns for Ted Cruz, the presidential candidate, with a smart phone app.
Users earn “points” as they give information and get the word out. First comes a brief survey, which French demonstrated at a park in Lakewood, near her desk job at Camp Murray.
“Would you describe yourself as evangelical? Yes. If I had to choose I’d probably say Tea Party-ish. Although Tea Party values are in our platform. So, Libertarian? Maybe a little.”
Republicans are expecting a vigorous battle for convention delegates' loyalty this weekend in Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.
The GOP county conventions there will choose delegates to go the party’s state convention in May.
The state Republican party is not tracking who these delegates support for president. But a recent King County convention went entirely to delegates who support Cruz. His supporters had outflanked fans of Donald Trump and John Kasich.
“Obviously I don’t want to give away too much strategy, but we are working really hard,” French said.
French will be at the Pierce County convention at the Puyallup Fairgrounds this weekend to push for Cruz. She said she finds him smart, critical and strong on constitutional issues.
Supporters can note on the app whether you want to make phone calls on Cruz’s behalf, go door to door.
French says this would be a thrilling year to be a delegate to the state or national convention.
“I would love to go, but it is very expensive,” she said.
She notes that even the state convention in Pasco would cost a few hundred dollars once hotels and the various events are paid for. So she’ll probably campaign for him from home.
In Pierce County, French is up against other experienced campaigners, like Gig Harbor resident Marlyn Jensen.
“When I was 16, I was crowned GOP queen by the governor of Montana,” Jensen says.
Jensen is a precinct committee officer in Pierce County and has been involved in Republican politics all her life. She’s supporting Trump at the county convention.
Jensen runs a property management business, and she hopes Trump will help simplify taxes and regulations for business owners.
“The thing I love about Donald Trump is that he understands business, he’s on the front line with people” who have to balance books and pay employees, Jensen said.
Jensen attended her first national convention in 2012 to support Mitt Romney. Normally she would be reluctant to go again, but this is a special circumstance – possibly the first contested presidential convention in decades. So Jensen may seek to be a national delegate.
“I feel that in this election it’s going to take a lot of veterans going back there that understand the process,” she said.
Jensen said she is coaching and doing outreach to other Trump supporters. She said many are “quiet,” verging on being “undercover,” so she’s not sure what to expect at her county convention.
State Sen. Pam Roach will be there, although she hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate. Roach said the political leaders in Washington have done their best to sideline their grassroots delegates.
“It’s just the way it is,” Roach said. “Both parties, at the top, want to control what’s happening at their conventions.”
This year for the first time, the state Republican Party relies completely on its presidential primary in May to determine who its delegates are bound to vote for. The party switched to a greater emphasis on the primary after 1988, when, Roach said, Republican leaders were upset about the grassroots support for Pat Robertson.
On the Democratic side, Roach said, the party instituted “superdelegates,” elected officials who are not bound by their grassroots caucus results. This has caused a flap in Washington this year, since Sen. Bernie Sanders decisively won the state’s caucuses, but many superdelegates support Hillary Clinton.
Roach said this year is just another version of the old tension between party activists and their leaders.
“You get a moderate candidate when you have an open process at the ballot. And you’ll have a more conservative person like a Pat Robertson, if you have a total caucus selection process,” she said.
Back near Camp Murray, Cruz supporter Kerry French said she just learned that state Republican leaders – former Attorney General Rob McKenna, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, and former Secretary of State Sam Reed – have declared their support for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Kasich is currently in third place.
“I’m disappointed but it doesn’t surprise me,” French said. “Well, good luck to them. Maybe they’ll have to come up with money to pay door-bellers. We don’t have to pay our door-bellers because we have people that are going out because they want to.”
McKenna told KIRO that unfortunately the phrase “Republican establishment” has become “a pejorative term,” but he said he and the other leaders believe Kasich would be effective and the candidate most capable of beating Hillary Clinton if she is the Democrats’ nominee.