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Decent Tex-Mex. A smile on K Street. A traffic-free stretch of the Beltway at 6 p.m. Around here, finding one of these things is like discovering a four-leaf clover. But nothing is tougher than tracking down a bona fide D.C. Republican.

Oh sure, you got your Virginia Republicans, your Maryland Republicans, your transient “I’m just hanging out for a few years until I go back to Kansas” Republicans. Just try finding any registered with the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics.

That’s the problem that the various GOP prez campaigns are encountering these days.

Here’s the predicament: Candidates need to get signatures from 1 percent of D.C.’s registered Republicans in order to compete in D.C.’s Feb. 12 primary. That translates into roughly 300 signatures. The petition deadline is Dec. 14. So foot soldiers for the leading Republican candidates (Fred Thompson’s campaign did not respond to our survey) have been making the rounds in the city over the past several weeks. It’s a routine that Democratic campaigns haven’t had to suffer—they’ve had the choice of either collecting signatures or sending in a $2,500 check. Most will send the money, says D.C. Democratic State Committee Chair Anita Bonds.

Considering that the Republicans represent a mere 8 percent of D.C. voters, perhaps the extra legwork will be good for them.

John McCainRudy GiulianiMitt RomneyRon PaulMike Huckabee
Picked Up Petitions:
Oct. 12Oct. 17Oct. 25Nov. 6Dec. 4
Signature-Gathering MO:
“The way most of these campaigns work is that it starts off really slow, and as the pressure builds, and as you get closer to deadlines, they get more frenzied,” says campaign volunteer Jim Kadtke. This fall, the D.C. Republican Committee threw a “signature-gathering party” for all the campaigns, as well as several other well-attended events—all of which were a boon to the McCain petition process, says Kadtke. In addition, groups had fruitful canvassing sessions in the Palisades, Cleveland Park, Georgetown, and Tenleytown.Giuliani’s slate of delegates is a who’s who of local Republicania. There’s Margaret Melady, the group’s senior vice chair; Charlie Grizzle, the finance chair; David Kranich, vice chair of Ward 2 Republicans and 2006 candidate for mayor; Theresa Conroy, 2006 candidate for Ward 3 councilmember. With names like these, how can you lose?Romney’s people are going for the combo effect: They’re working connections with the GOP upper crust as well as logging tedious, canvassing hours, says Romney supporter Tony Parker. Volunteers have staked out various Whole Foods, Giants, Safeways, and a Best Buy in the District, and they’ve endured a lot of dirty looks: “I bring my golden retriever. I figure maybe they’ll like the golden retriever. In ’04, I was standing outside a polling station with my wife and my dog and a big sign for Bush. Someone walked to us and said ‘Look, if you give me your dog, I’ll vote for Bush.’”Volunteer Bradley Jansen gathered data on the addresses of registered District Republicans, the better to get to the grass roots. And the Paul camp does have the tenacity of youth on its side. At the Dec. 4 D.C. Young Republicans holiday party, there were several Paul petitioners working the crowd. Observed one McCain supporter: “You go to an event, and there’ll be one guy for Giuliani, one for Romney, one for McCain, and a dozen for Paul.” With intense focus and utter disregard for sleep, volunteer R. Laurence Woodson is spearheading the effort to get Huckabee on the D.C. ballot. Time is not on his side.

Since picking up Huckabee’s petitions, he’s been soliciting signatures nonstop: meeting with volunteers, walking the city, and making calls to registered Republicans.

“He has the energy of three 4-year-olds. He’s leading the pack of getting signatures,” says Princella Smith, a volunteer operative for Huckabee.

Good to go. Roughly 400 signatures gathered by Dec. 2.Enviable. Volunteer organizer Carl Schmid says the petitions—complete with some 500 signatures—were turned into the elections board by Nov. 28.“I think we’ve pretty much stopped gathering,” said Parker on Dec. 11. “We’ve got north of 500 signatures.”Not quite there yet: The campaign had about 300 signatures as of Dec. 10 but was still working on its safety net. “I don’t even care how many (signatures) we have,” says Woodson. “We just don’t stop until Thursday. It’s kind of like a runner turning around and seeing who’s behind him. You don’t want to waste your energy doing that.”
The Skinny:
“Early mornings work the best. There’s something about Republicans being out early—getting their coffee, getting their paper, dog walking either before or after church,” says one McCain staffer.Slow and steady wins the race. Schmid says he started compiling a list of Giuliani supporters and donors last February. In August, he sat down with two other District volunteer co-chairs to start generating the list of delegates.Parker and Romney supporter Betsy Werronen had to gather signatures together to run for national committeeman and national committeewoman. So, grabbing some for Romney was a “kill two birds with one stone” deal.Jansen had a tough time tracking down eligible registered Republicans to be delegates. So he turned to his neighbors to help fill out the slate: “If you identify yourself as a fellow Republican, it’s like a secret handshake.You’re an unseen minority. There’s a certain kinship of: Oh my God, you’re one, too. I didn’t know there was anyone else in the neighborhood,” he saysWoodson got in touch with the campaign in November after seeing a Charlie Rose interview with Huckabee. Until then, he supported Barack Obama. But he agreed with Huckabee’s positions and thought “there wasn’t one disingenuous moment in the hour.”