The biggest blast (literally) I had last weekend was when I went target shooting with a bunch of Young Republicans.

The YRs had invited me to their state convention at the Red Lion Bellevue Inn to give an after-lunch speech about developments in the 2004 gubernatorial election. I found that the Young Republicans and other conservative grass-roots groups around King County have been revitalized with a surge in new members lately. The YR's membership has more than doubled in the last half year to more than 40 and climbing--months after the traditional political season should have ended. A lot of this is attributable to widespread queasiness over the gubernatorial election. Perhaps it also has something to do with the way the Democratic majority in Olympia ran the show this year, with the help of the acting governor.

State Rep. Toby Nixon, a Republican from Kirkland, was also a guest at the convention and my tablemate at lunch. Over a proper political plate of chicken, he gave me a rundown of where he thought the Democratic legislature went too far this session to alienate moderate and conservative voters: eviscerating I-601 to permit tax increases without the voter-mandated supermajority; hiking taxes on estates, cigarettes, alcohol, and gasoline; hurting business with union set-asides and higher unemployment insurance taxes; and obstructing meaningful progress on election reform. Popular dismay with the Democrats' tax-and-spend binge and bait-and-switch "election reforms" will only broaden and energize the Republican base.

I stuck around for the convention's afternoon activities, including a field trip to Wade's indoor gun range, to hang out with this base. While waiting my turn for a Glock semiautomatic, I chatted with some of the club members. It became clear that they were attracted to the Republican Party for its strength on the same themes that Nixon accused the Democrats of missing the boat on: improving the economic climate and cleaning up the elections mess.

Most of the King County YRs are single professionals in their 20s and early 30s, split 60/40 between men and women. The group combines a monthly social club to connect people of common interests, along with political education and an opportunity to get involved in campaigns. Their concerns are largely economic--Social Security reform, school choice, lower taxes, and smaller government. Club president Katherine Jones, 26, is interested in tort reform, as are other younger women who worry about losing their ob-gyns to unbearably expensive malpractice insurance. These are precisely the issues where Democrats advance opposing positions. Her new members are eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work on the fall campaigns--for David Irons' challenge to County Executive Ron Sims, and in the words of some, to help "re-elect Dino Rossi."

On a side note, I'm new to the gun thing myself. Most of my shots hit the lower left corner of the target away from the bull's-eye. But I have to say that learning to use a weapon in a safe and controlled environment is not only a good idea for self-defense, it's also a lot of fun.

Stefan Sharkansky founded the local conservative politics blog

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