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Republicans look for moderation to gain Jackson County voters

GOP intends to steer clear of highly charged issues such as religion and gays

Republican leaders in Jackson County say they will continue to back a more moderate party direction and lessen the focus on hot-button issues like abortion and homosexuality.

That approach helped the GOP dominate the November elections in Jackson County, where voters backed Republicans in races for the U.S. House and Senate, Oregon governor and all but one legislative seat. Of the nine legislators who represent parts of Jackson County, eight are Republicans.

Republicans hope to build on that success in the 2004 election by concentrating on such issues as the state's budget and reducing government waste.

emphasizing what we really do and de-emphasizing the hot spots ' that should be the main concern of our party, said Lola Breeze, president of Jackson County Republican Women.

Democrats have made a big issue out of anti-abortion sentiments within the GOP's ranks, she said, but that makes up a only fraction of the Republican Party's beliefs. It does, however, dissuade some voters ' particularly women ' from joining the party, she said.

I don't think they should pick whether they are a Republican or Democrat strictly on the abortion issue, said Breeze.

Republicans have made modest gains on the voter rolls in the past 10 years in Jackson County, growing from 40 to 42 percent of the electorate, compared to 34 percent for Democrats.

In 1976, the Democrats were out-registering us by 8,000, but we were up by 8,000 in 2000, said Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party.

While Platt agreed the party's pro-life stance has been a polarizing issue, he doesn't think it was necessarily a detriment. Platt, who has been an outspoken opponent of abortion, cited exit polls that show Oregon voters giving a slight edge to pro-life candidates.

Nevertheless, topics such as abortion, homosexuality, the environment and religion generate a lot of heat both inside and outside the Republican Party, he said.

Platt said some of those issues can be resolved only at the national level and, apart from the environment, are not generally part of the local political debate.

and large we concentrate pretty much on the meat and potatoes issues, he said. We're interested, like most people, in the main issues of education, human services and law enforcement.

As chairman, Platt said he hopes to bridge the divisions within the party. We agree to disagree on 4 or 5 percent of issues, he said.

That disagreement surfaced recently, when U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith led a campaign to replace state party chairman Perry Atkinson, a Christian broadcaster who supported efforts to involve the party in social issues like abortion.

Atkinson eventually agreed not to seek re-election to the position, which was then filled by defeated gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix.

Platt said the issue was divisive, but that it was now behind the party.

I hope we can let bygones be bygones, he said. It was very diplomatic and generous of Perry to voluntarily step aside. I hope that Senator Smith and his staff can see past that and work with Kevin.

Diane Davidson, past president of the county Republican Party, said that despite perceptions to the contrary the party has become more moderate in recent years.

I think there were mistakes made with the extreme conservatives that offended the more moderate conservatives, she said. The party was being led by a bunch of well-intended people who are way far to the conservative side.

A growing number of independents in Jackson County is symptomatic of the schism that occurred among Republicans, Davidson said.

The Christian Coalition that moved in put people in the central committee, she said. They made strong demands and made a lot of noise.

But Republicans made a concerted effort in recent years to broaden their base of support. That's evidenced, their leaders say, by the party's changing emphasis away from social issues and toward more traditional topics.

The most important issues, Davidson said, are the economy and the health and welfare of this community.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail