Anybody who knows anything about state politics knows that this is shaping up to be a tough year for Republicans in Olympia… that is, everybody except, perhaps, our state GOP leaders:
Republican Party Chairwoman Diane Tebelius, however, said she sees no cause for concern.
“I’ve never been a believer that what might be happening in federal politics is necessarily affecting what goes on in state politics,” she said. “I think we’re going to pick up seats in the [state] House and Senate, and at a very minimum will retain all our seats in the state Senate.”
Party leaders in the state House and Senate agree. “I don’t feel like I’m going to lose any seats and I could possibly pick one up,” said Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.
Uh-huh. National politics never impacts local races. Tell that to all those Democratic legislators swept out in 1994.
Of course, not all state Republicans are as steeped in denial as Tebelius:
“I’m worried,” said Rep. Fred Jarrett, a moderate Republican from Mercer Island. “If it’s a bad year for Republicans everywhere, I’m a Republican.”
Fortunately for the ever popular Jarrett, he’ll easily win reelection whatever baggage the “R” next to his name might carry. And fortunately for the Dems, as one of the state Republican caucus’s last remaining true moderates, nobody in his party’s leadership much heeds Jarrett’s sage advice anymore.
But it’s not just the general political climate that sucks for local Republicans (and man does it suck), for circumstances have conspired to leave the GOP with a buttload of open seats to defend, many in swing or Democratic-leaning districts. All things being equal, Democrats were poised to pick up a few seats this year just on pure numbers.
But they’re not equal. President Bush’s approval rating in WA ranks near the lowest in the nation, while local polling consistently shows Democrats with a double-digit lead in generic preference. And in a more nuts-and-bolts measure, Democrats are out-raising their opponents in close races throughout the state.
GOP faithful may be momentarily comforted by Tebelius’s cheerleading, but there’s a good chance we may witness the beginnings of a structural realignment on her watch. Former Republican strongholds in the East King County suburbs have been trending Democratic for years, and a new class of socially progressive, fiscally moderate Democratic legislators could go a long way towards pushing many voters to redefine their party identification.
The fact is that King County — a government larger than that of 13 states — has been remarkably well managed under the leadership of Ron Sims and a Democratic council, boasting one of the highest bond ratings in the nation. Compare that to the fiscal incompetence of national Republicans who are running up the largest budget deficits in our nation’s history. Our local “Dan Evans Republicans” must wonder, which party is it that more closely represents their values?
For years, state and local Republicans have benefited from extraordinary feats of party discipline, but this strategy will not work in the face of the political disaster that is unfolding under the GOP’s one-party rule in the other Washington. Local Republican candidates who refuse to openly and honestly criticize their President and their Congress, will be viewed by voters for what they are: Republicans.
And that’s simply not an attractive brand to run on in 2006.