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Forget inaugural bashes -- some Republicans are skipping town

They're leaving the partying to the Democrats. Those who plan to stay say they will be there to observe history.

January 19, 2009|Jill Zuckman and Richard Simon

WASHINGTON — Half a dozen Republicans decamped from Washington to Southern California this weekend to get away from the crowds, the cold and the Barack Obama bobbleheads. They've rented a house in Palm Springs with a heated swimming pool, a hot tub and an outdoor fire pit.

"We'll toast the new administration and, fingers crossed, wish them well before we return on Wednesday and see what the future holds for Republicans in Washington," said Karen Johnson, a lobbyist and former Bush administration official who organized the long weekend.

Many Democrats are approaching Obama's inauguration as the 44th president with unbridled excitement, but Republican spirits are considerably muted. They are bracing for the couple million Democratic partygoers expected to invade the capital, not to mention the loss of thousands of Republican jobs.

The switch from a Republican to a Democratic White House will put at least 8,000 members of the GOP out of work. The loss of Republican seats in the House and the Senate has added to the party's employment problem.

And the consultants and lobbyists who do business based on their relationships with Republican lawmakers and administration officials are expecting to feel the pinch too.

"I literally don't know a single Republican who's going to be in town over the inauguration," said Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and who is headed to New York. "This is not an easy time. It's not the politics, it's the economics."

Charles Spies, a Washington lawyer who was counsel for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, is planning to have a party in Las Vegas. He's holding an "inaugural in exile" dinner with his wife and about a dozen GOP friends.

"We live in downtown D.C., and decided we would let Barack Obama have his moment in D.C. and we would get the heck out of town," Spies said.

But John Feehery, a Republican consultant and former spokesman for onetime House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), is staying.

"For me it's a historic moment, and you don't necessarily want to root for the other team, but you want to be there and observing history," he said.

Besides, said Feehery, who plans to attend a couple of inaugural parties, "if all the Republicans leave town, this makes for more business opportunities for me."

Stuart Roy, a former House Republican leadership aide, is co-hosting an inaugural event on the roof of his public affairs firm's building, "partly because we should celebrate historic events no matter whose candidate won the election, and partly because we have a sweet view of the White House and parade route."

California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming to the inauguration. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) will be in attendance too.

"Republicans will be respectful in attending a lot of these events, but probably not celebrating on the same level that a lot of the Democrats are," Thune said. "I suspect there will be a lot of dinners where Republicans get together and think about where we go from here."

House Republican leader John A. Boehner of Ohio will be carrying out official inaugural duties most of Tuesday: tea at the White House, the inaugural lunch and sitting on the dais for the swearing-in.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be on the platform for the swearing-in too, next to his wife, departing Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. The pair also plan to attend Kentucky's Bluegrass Ball in the evening.

"Republicans celebrate our democracy and the safe transfer of power that democracy brings to our great land," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.

But for some Republicans, a Democrat in the White House and expanded Democratic majorities in Congress will be too much.

"We don't have anything planned for the inauguration," said Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection. "We wish Obama well, but since our man [John] McCain came up short, it will be just another workday for us."

Still, Johnson, the lobbyist, said the decision to bolt had more to do with closed bridges and unprecedented crowds than anything else. And Palm Springs' warm weather is a bonus.

"I don't think we're bitter at all about it," she said, calling the official transfer of power an opportunity for a four-day weekend. "Let the Democrats enjoy their moment and have their celebration. We'd all be trapped in our homes anyway."

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jzuckman@tribune.com

richard.simon@latimes.com

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