Mark Ness says the defining moment for him in this election was the religious forum with John McCain and Barack Obama two weeks ago at Saddleback, a prominent church in Lake Forest, Calif.

Mark Ness says the defining moment for him in this election was the religious forum with John McCain and Barack Obama two weeks ago at Saddleback, a prominent church in Lake Forest, Calif.

"I was not particularly a McCain supporter until I saw him at Saddleback," said the 55-year-old Ness, who regards himself as a conservative first and a Republican second.

Ness, a precinct committee person, is helping get the new Republican headquarters at 115 W. Main St., Medford, ready for its grand opening Sept. 4.

It's also the location for the McCain campaign, which is gaining steam in Jackson County after much anticipation and some frustration by local Republicans.

Applegate resident Warren Merz and Medford resident Ruth Broadman will head up the local campaign for McCain.

Ness said many Republicans like himself have been slow to warm up to the Arizona senator, but that feeling has disappeared as they become more familiar with his views.

"I am seeing McCain solidify that lukewarmness," he said.

Republicans expressed frustration earlier this summer at the slow start of the McCain campaign locally with few lawn signs to pass out.

Ness pulled a McCain sign out for a woman who stopped by Republican headquarters Wednesday before it opened and marvelled at the 4,000 square feet of space in the downtown area.

"It's a to-die-for facility as far as visibility," said Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee.

He thinks Republicans are now set to generate a formidable campaign not only on the national level but locally as well.

His earlier frustrations at the lack of a strong McCain grassroots effort locally is dissipating.

"It was encouraging to see volunteers get back together," he said.

Phone banks are already in place, cubicles have been set up and campaign signs are available for the local slate of candidates.

The Democrats have a permanent headquarters at 40 S. Central Ave., Medford. The Obama campaign has its headquarters at 105 E. Main St., a few blocks from the Republican offices.

Platt said there are no plans to have a permanent Republican headquarters, saying the offices will disband after the election is over. "Frankly, we haven't had the financial resources," he said.

Sahar Wali, Obama campaign spokeswoman, said that even though this state has shown much support for Obama, the campaign effort will continue to accelerate.

"We are by no means taking the state of Oregon for granted," she said. "The Obama campaign in Oregon will pull out all the stops."

Even though Jackson County historically has been a Republican stronghold, Wali said the support here has been overwhelming.

Canvassing efforts that increased the Democratic lead statewide will continue through the campaign cycle, she said.

Rick Gorka, western region spokesman for the McCain campaign, said the Republican convention next week will continue to build momentum for McCain and show the vast differences he has with Obama.

"The shine is coming off the 'change candidate,' " he said.

He said phone banks will organize, lawn signs will spring up and a coalition leadership will be formed, representing everyone from gun owners to business leaders.

"There's a tremendous amount of energy out there," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.