Earlier this morning Lee asked why Palin-backed tea partier Clint Didier couldn’t even come close to achieving in Washington state the same sort of stunning primary election upset as even nuttier Christine O’Donnell won last night in Delaware, and perhaps the short answer is: been there, done that.
One of the consequences of the Republican wave of 1994 is that it swept far-right-wing Evangelical Christians into control of the party in many regions of the state, a movement that prompted far-right-wing, Evangelical Christian Ellen Craswell to seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 1996. Riding this renewed surge of right-wing energy, and employing a grassroots strategy reminiscent of today’s Tea Party, Craswell edged out the relatively moderate, Republican establishment candidate Dale Forman in the primary, only to move on to a crushing 16-point defeat against Gary Locke in the general.
I guess blunt campaign rhetoric like describing gay rights as “special rights for sodomites” didn’t go over too well with Washington’s more moderate electorate.
During the next few years Washington’s Christian right continued to fight for control of state and local Republican Party organizations, leading to the whittling away of GOP majorities, and culminating in 2000’s disastrous gubernatorial nomination of ultra-conservative John Carlson, and his near 20-point blowout loss to Gov. Locke despite a less than impressive first term. This ultimately led to the hollowing out of the state party over the past decade, despite the efforts of former chairman Chris Vance to impose party discipline and nominate more mainstream-ish candidates.
Indeed, the once solidly red suburban districts swung blue, not because the electorate became dramatically more liberal, but because the former “Dan Evans Republicans” were now running as Democrats.
The point is, while there were many factors that led to a string of Democratic victories in statewide elections and an almost unbroken series of legislative pickups over the past seven cycles, the roots of the Democrats’ recent resurgence can be traced back to their devastating defeat in 1994, and the seeds of self-destruction planted by the overconfident far-right-wing of their Republican rivals.
The Ellen Craswellization of the WSRP proved a total bust, and the party has been paying the price ever since. That’s a lesson Delaware Republicans are about to learn, but which even many of the more radical elements of our own GOP seem to now pragmatically, if reluctantly acknowledge. Indeed, perhaps the only thing worse in the long term for national Republicans than failing to gain control of Congress due to Tea Party hubris, might be for them to win, and be forced, like Washington state Republicans before them, to learn this lesson the hard way.