Postman reports this morning that Republican Doug Roulstone has dropped his bid to unseat Washington 2nd Congressional District incumbent Rep. Rick Larsen. As Jacob quips in Postman’s comment thread:
“If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make any sound.”
No idea he was even running for Congress, and I am an above average political junkie.
It is a favorite pastime of local Republican trolls and bloggers to disparage and dismiss WA-08 Democratic challenger Darcy Burner as an “airhead” and a “lightweight,” as if repeating it often enough would make it so. But it is instructive to compare the brief political careers of both Burner and Roulstone.
Roulstone is a Navy Captain, a 27-year veteran, a graduate of the US Naval Academy and the former Commanding Officer of the USS John C. Stennis, a Nimitz-class, nuclear powered aircraft carrier. I’ve never met Roulstone, but on paper at least he appears to be an accomplished man and a commanding figure… the kind of resume that would seem a perfect match to Republicans’ own self image.
Arguably, Burner’s career accomplishments are less overtly spectacular. Burner, who enjoyed a modest upbringing in rural Nebraska, had to work multiple jobs to earn her way through Harvard University. That same sort of hard work, determination and natural smarts eventually carried her to a senior management position at Microsoft — not exactly equivalent to commanding a supercarrier, but a textbook illustration of the American dream come true, nonetheless.
Both Roulstone and Burner entered their respective 2006 House races as political novices facing well known incumbents in what most experts consider to be swing districts: the Cook Partisan Voter Index rates WA-08 as D+3 and WA-02 as D+2. (By comparison, WA-07 is rated D+30.) At the outset, neither were given much of a chance by local or national pundits, and Roulstone didn’t disappoint, losing to Larsen by a 19-point margin. Burner on the other hand shocked the political and media establishment, raising over $3.2 million and coming within 3 points of becoming the first Democrat ever to win WA-08.
Sure, it was a “wave” election in which Democrats retook both houses of Congress, and that certainly gave an advantage to Burner over Roulstone, but at the same time Burner had to swim against an unprecedented flood of GOP money while weathering the storm of being Karl Rove’s number one target. Adjusting for all the external factors — the strength of their opponents, the partisan leaning of their districts, the electorate’s thirst for change, etc. — only an idiot or a liar would deny that Burner proved herself to be the far superior candidate.
Fast forward to 2008, where Burner is preparing to announce over $600,000 cash-on-hand entering the final 9-months of the campaign, while Roulstone is quietly dropping his bid after an anemic year of fundraising, leaving 2nd CD Republicans in the unenviable position of scrambling to save face.
In many ways our electoral system has become utterly fucking ridiculous, a circus of perpetual campaigning in which money often speaks louder than words or deeds. But while this grueling and sometimes demeaning path toward elected office surely deters many qualified candidates who would otherwise make excellent public servants, it also serves to weed out those would-be office holders who are unwilling or unable to put up with the grueling demands of the office itself. It is undoubtedly an imperfect system, and our media’s (bloggers included) relentless focus on horse-race politics tends to trivialize our most crucial issues, yet it is fair to say that a candidate’s performance on the campaign trail is as good a predictor as any of his or her future performance in office.
Capt. Roulstone had an impressive military career by almost any measure, but as a political campaigner he paled in comparison to the supposedly “lightweight” Burner; that is why she is in the thick of a second competitive race, and he is not. Which is the more demanding profession? In America, our military commanders take their orders from our civilian leaders, and not the other way around.
As the oft maligned and dismissed Sen. Patty Murray — on the verge of becoming one of the most powerful figures in the US Senate — has repeatedly proven, it is not always obvious what traits make one a successful politician… though winning races you’re not supposed to win is surely one of them. Whether Burner is able to pull out an underdog victory against an entrenched incumbent in 2008 remains to be seen, but by the ultimate standard we use to judge all our politicians, she has already proven herself qualified to serve.