Flanked by projections of a glowering eagle's head backed by an American flag, Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie addressed the King County Republican Party's inaugural "Liberty Dinner" in Bellevue on Tuesday, November 18. He offered a full-bore defense of the president's post-9/11 policy of preemption while disparaging rival Democrats as a shrinking rump of tax-happy, rage-addled ultraliberal elitists increasingly prone to foaming at the mouth with "political hate speech" directed at President Bush.

Washington is a priority for Republicans in the 2004 elections, Gillespie said, describing the state as "ground zero" in the party's efforts to maintain control of the U.S. Senate, expand its governorships, and reelect President Bush in 2004. He touted plans to register 40,000 new Republicans statewide before next November, part of a nationwide effort to bring 3 million new voters into the party.

Though he predicted the election would be close, Gillespie expressed confidence in Republican success in 2004, characterizing his party as one of opportunity and hope while claiming the Democratic presidential candidates were trying to return the country to the "bell-bottoms and flower-pattern shirts" era of malaise and self-doubt in the 1970s.

He further questioned the harsh tone of recent Democratic attacks on the current administration. "We are a nation at war and they think President Bush is the enemy," Gillespie said. "This rhetoric goes beyond legitimate political discourse. Ladies and gentlemen, this is political hate speech."

Though Gillespie described an "inclusive" Republican Party, the 330 diners in the beige Grand Ballroom of the Bellevue Hyatt Regency for the most part formed repetitive tableaux of bottle-blond women flanked by grey-haired, dark-suited white men sporting American-flag lapel pins bordered with red and blue lights flashing in mesmerizing rotation.

Clearly eager to support President Bush, the audience seemed equally enthusiastic at the prospect of electing, for the first time in 24 years, a Republican governor in 2004. Amid the host of speakers following Gillespie, State Senator Dino Rossi, the state party's gubernatorial choice, received several standing ovations as he touted his message of melding anti-tax conservatism with concern for the "poor and vulnerable."

Prior to Gillespie's speech, the attendees were entertained by a group of Boy Scouts who presented the colors and by kilted bagpipers from the Washington Scottish Pipe Band. The event raised more than $100,000, according to organization executive director, Ross Marzolf.

sandeep@thestranger.com