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Friday, June 2, 2006 - Page updated at 02:55 PM

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On Politics

Sacrificial lamb or GOP star?

Republicans may be smarting after the coverage of their convention last week, best summed up as "GOP to Babies: Go Home." But there's still Steve Beren.

Beren was the surprise hit of the state Republican convention and he could be the Keith Harris of 2006. Don't remember Harris? He was Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott's Republican opponent in 1994. And with 24.8 percent of the vote, Harris had the best showing yet against the state's most liberal congressman. History didn't dampen enthusiasm for Beren. His speech to the convention brought some of the day's biggest applause as he outlined how to beat the man called, among other things, "Congressman for Life."

"My campaign is a local campaign and it is also a national campaign," Beren told the delegates. "Jim McDermott is practically a poster child for the extremism of the Democratic Party. ... We're going to make him a lightning rod for fundraising, a flash point for fundraising not just in Seattle but from throughout this country."

McDermott already is the congressman conservatives love to hate. He's in a legal battle with House Majority Leader John Boehner stemming from his leak of a tape-recorded cellphone conversation of Republican leaders discussing Newt Gingrich's ethics problems. He's been assailed for his critical statements of President Bush and the war in Iraq, both before the war and since.

McDermott said he's not worried about Beren's attempt to nationalize the campaign.

"John Boehner has used that over the last nine years as well and whatever can be made of that, he's gotten," McDermott said.

Besides, he said, it's the Democrats who will nationalize the vote by making the elections about Bush.

Beren used to be a Democrat and an anti-war protester in the 1960s and '70s. But after 9/11 he became a Republican — at age 52 — and an activist "doing what I could to help win the war on terror."

He lives on Capitol Hill. His bio says he's director of production operations for an Internet marketing company. But he says, "My business is running against Jim McDermott."

Beren is a strong supporter of the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and the administration's wiretapping effort. He says McDermott has not supported Israel enough and has been too supportive of Iran.

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He favors severe penalties for businesses that hire illegal immigrants and says the United States should stop providing free education or any services to illegal immigrants.

Beren said he and his wife are members of the Christian Faith Center. The church's mission is "to make successful Christians of all people."

In all, Beren doesn't come to the race with anything approaching a résumé that would appeal to the state's most liberal congressional district. He didn't know what I meant when I said it must be nice to get such a great reception at the convention, given the odds he faces.

"Seattle needs a debate," he said.

David Postman is The Seattle Times' chief political reporter. His column appears Fridays. Reach him at 360-236-8267 or at dpostman@seattletimes.com

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