Many GOPers Flee Washington for Balmy Climes

Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009 04:42 PM

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WASHINGTON — For many prominent Republicans, Barack Obama's inauguration was a special day of a different sort, full of balmy breezes and lovely vistas.

Having absorbed a drubbing in the November elections, GOP loyalists fled Washington for beaches, golf courses and ski slopes, happy to leave the cold and crowded National Mall to the winners.

"For some reason, I did not get invited to any of the highly rated parties," said Charlie Black, a veteran lobbyist who was a top adviser to Republican presidential nominee John McCain. He planned to spend Tuesday playing golf in Arizona.

"I'll be trading up about 50 degrees," Black said, seeking a bright spot in a grim political season.

Eric Ueland, a longtime Republican aide and adviser in Washington, was willing to be chilly, but not in Washington.

"Inaugural day will find me in New Hampshire, snowmobiling my cares away," he said in an e-mail. "I think there's no better place to go after the avalanche we suffered in the electoral college."

Terry Holt is another Republican strategist who went skiing Tuesday, although he chose West Virginia slopes, and he didn't totally ignore the festivities in Washington.

"My 9-year-old son is huge Obama admirer," Holt said, "and he insists we watch the swearing-in and speech. I'm sure it's just the first of many traitorous acts."

The GOP's defeat was not the only reason for vacating Washington, Holt said. With so many people pouring in, he said, "it's going to be chaos."

Washington-based Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio spent the day at his Miami vacation home. All inaugurations bring suffocating crowds and unbearable traffic, he said. Obama should not take his absence personally, Fabrizio said, because he also skipped George W. Bush's two inaugurations.

"It's just a bad time, period," to be in the nation's capital, he said.

Jill Hazelbaker, who was McCain's communications director, spent Tuesday visiting friends in New York City.

"Of course I'll be watching the inauguration festivities" on TV, she said. She said she thought about attending in person, but navigating Washington's crowds seemed too daunting.

Still, Hazelbaker said, Republicans and Democrats alike "have high hopes for the incoming Obama administration."

Some Republicans, of course, stayed in Washington. John Feehery, a strategist and former top congressional aide, said he and his wife planned to walk from their Capitol Hill home to the ceremony if they could find a baby sitter for their young son.

"I accepted the will of the American people and I'm willing to work with this administration," he said.

A frequent political commentator on CNN and MSNBC, Feehery seemed not in great demand on this day of Democratic celebration. "I might be doing Irish TV," he said a bit sheepishly.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who has joined a Democratic colleague to create a bipartisan consulting firm, did not expect to see many GOP friends Tuesday.

"There's a slew of people at South Beach and Vegas," he said. He and his wife considered a last-minute flight to Puerto Rico.

"It's not because Barack Obama is becoming president," Bonjean said. "It's because 2 million people are saturating the city."

Fabrizio, the pollster, said he thinks there is "a secret underground of Republicans who are actually going to be sneaking to the inauguration."

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