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The incredible, shrinking Northwest GOP

As Washington and Oregon become increasingly urban, Republicans are increasingly scarce. They remain in control of isolated, rural counties, but their numbers are no match for Democrats.
The counties won in 2008, by candidate.

The counties won in 2008, by candidate. Washington Secretary of State

With U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., conceding the loss of his seat Thursday, Nov. 6, the Republican Party in Oregon for the first time since statehood will have no statewide elected officer when all the votes are tallied and certified.

For a state that stayed Republican through the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II, and was often linked with Maine as coastal outposts of Republicanism, the situation is historic.

In Washington, more reliably Democratic when Oregon stayed with the GOP, even running away from the tarnished Republican label didn't help Dino Rossi ("prefers the G.O.P. Party") avoid a stunning loss in a governor's race that his national party had hoped to win. Republicans are down in Washington, but not out, and how the party rebuilds will likely determine its near-term future.

Alaska and Idaho remain safely Republican, with Alaskans defying conventional wisdom and continuing to vote for the scandal-racked Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, the former convicted of seven felonies and the latter under investigation on a host of campaign-related charges. Idaho elected a Democrat to Congress from its northern district, where Democrat Walt Minnick ousted Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Sali, but Republicans remain firmly in control of other major offices in that state.

In-migration is the major hope of Democrats in both Idaho and Alaska, and new voters were a factor in Minnick's victory. Alaska is a case unto itself; Democrats had very attractive candidates against Stevens and Young, but loyalty to those who delivered congressional pork for decades booted them home. If Stevens prevails in the final vote count, he will return to a Senate that could expel him unless a court voids his convictions. If that happens, Alaska must have a special election — the governor cannot appoint a successor as in most states — and Gov. Sarah Palin is a likely candidate to hold the seat for the GOP.

Alaska and Idaho have a strong Republican bench to keep the party in the game, but the bench is empty in Oregon and depleted in Washington.

In both states, the question is whether Republicans will attempt to guide back to the moderate politics of icons such as Dan Evans and John Spellman in Washington and Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield in Oregon, or turn sharply to the right as they did in several unsuccessful elections in the past two decades.

There's that election map again. It shows all sorts of red counties in the eastern and southern parts of both states, but not since the Supreme Court ordered one-man, one-vote laws in the 1960s has geography been able to trump population.

This is even more pronounced in Oregon than in Washington. Only three of the state's 10 largest cities (Salem, Medford, and Bend), are in counties carried by Smith. Portland has 15 percent of the state's population, and its penchant for the green and liberal exceeds that of Seattle. Some 70 percent of Oregonians live in cities, according to the Population Research Center at Portland State University, and most of the state's growth is in urban areas, particularly those surrounding Portland.

Oregon Republicans twice in the past two decades shot themselves in the foot, giving just enough votes to third-party conservatives to defeat moderate Republicans in the McCall-Hatfield mold, and the field of electable Republican moderates has been narrowed as a result. This year, a Constitution Party spoiler, David Brownlow, picked up 5 percent of the vote, arguably costing Smith his Senate seat. In 1990, third-party conservative Al Mobley helped elect a liberal Democrat, Barbara Roberts, as governor, over Attorney General David Frohnmayer, one of the best of the moderate Republicans. The party subsequently moved to the right, nominating cultural conservatives and losing badly for offices at all levels in recent years.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 12:08 a.m. Inappropriate


like to see the GOP reverse its stand on pro-life . think it would gain more than it would lose.

now its 4 more years for christine to bankrupt Washington - what a sorry state of affairs.

the state begins to be in control by those who pander to a society of no personal responsibility and little work ethic.

"Just give me my benefits !"

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 7:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Dino Rossi ran an extremely cynical campaign. The tap dancing turned people off. The links to radical special interests were plain to the eye and extremely damaging to Rossi and the GOP. Promotion of sour grapes about the last election didn't help either. Gregoire was clearly beatable.

The state's Republicans put most all of their eggs in the Rossi basket and lost. People will remember the coming ugly economic downturn as a big Republican slide. It will probably take a new generation to to bring the party back, or a new party with a true conservative brand.

Jan

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 8:10 a.m. Inappropriate

The political transformation of the professional class over the past 50 years from Eisenhower Republicans to one of the most consistent Democratic voting blocks has cost the Republican Party the suburbs, not just east of Lake Washington but in most metropolitan areas of the country. There are not enough voters in rural backwaters to sustain a national majority party. The Republican Party does not understand that simple arithmetic.

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate

As long as the GOP continues to pander to provincial rural voters and the hard right wing, its influence will only continue to shrink.

Sean

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 8:27 a.m. Inappropriate

"the state begins to be in control by those who pander to a society of no personal responsibility and little work ethic."

Wrong - voters sent a clear message of work ethic and personal responsibility when they fired all of the Republican bums responsible for wrecking the country.

Sean

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Alferd Packer must have been busy again.

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

When NBC chose the red/blue colors for their election map in 1976, they made the Democrats blue because they feared being accused of portraying them as soft on communism if they made the Dems red. Other networks followed NBC's lead and these colors seem to have become a permanent part of the political discourse. But now the author presents us with a new color scheme of green for Democrats and Yellow for Republicans. It seems that in keeping with the caution of the NBC plan, the GOP should have been represented with green to avoid the contention that the Democrats favor radical environmentalism.

Yes, I'm being facetious.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 1:26 p.m. Inappropriate

The green-and-yellow color scheme was chosen by the Office of the Secretary of State. Why they used those colors instead of red and blue, as on the presidential map, is a mystery. On the gubernatorial map, a note says:

"Colors for each candidate are assigned based on the order they appear on the ballot. Colors are not based on party affiliation or party preference. Maps are for illustration purposes only. Election results are not official until certified by county canvassing boards and the Office of the Secretary of State."

Yet on the presidential page, the traditional red and blue are there and there's no mention of the color choices:

"Maps are for illustration purposes only. Election results are not official until certified by county canvassing boards and the Office of the Secretary of State."

*Shrug*

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 3:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Yellow and green are the predominant colors on the Washington State flag. And the Seattle Sonics' uniforms.

Sean

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

So what happened to all the Dinocrats that the media -- including Crosscut --bought hook line and sinker? Gregoire worked extremely hard to win a second term. Yes, Obama helped, but she did four years of intense retail politics all over Washington too. Take a look at her vote totals in red counties this time around as opposed to last time. I disagree with Jan's comment that she was "clearly beatable." You underestimated her and continue to underestimate her.

alias

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 8:08 p.m. Inappropriate

I believe that Chris Gregoire is the most accomplished Governor in recent history. I don't underestimate her accomplishments. I have high confidence in Chris Gregoire. She is my favorite governor among all that I've worked with over the past three decades. I just thought that the data indicated she was beatable. Not because of anything she'd done necessarily, just because of the overall dynamic. Her campaign was much maligned by the people who most supported her. It turned out that it was far better than the cynical campaign Dino Rossi ran, which never seemed to understand the difference between talk and reality.

Jan

Posted Fri, Nov 7, 11:30 p.m. Inappropriate

To continue to follow a failed path only defines continued failure (as well as insanity). The NW coastal GOP does nothing more than present its self as a differnent kind of Democrat. I use the following quote to illustrate:

"In both states, the question is whether Republicans will attempt to guide back to the moderate politics of icons such as Dan Evans and John Spellman in Washington and Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield in Oregon, or turn sharply to the right as they did in several unsuccessful elections in the past two decades."

Turning to the right...NOT. And moderates have been victorious in elections how many times? VERY few.

"Moderate Republicans" lose. Especially when they run against Democrat incumbents. Rationalizing this is quite easy, voters don't see an appreciable diference. "Why replace what I have already?" And moderates eventually lose to Democrats as the demographics of the voting "mob" changes. Two examples, and coincidentally Maria Cantwell is the subject of both. First, Mike McGavic's run against her last re-election. He was comical trying to out "Democrat" Cantwell. And second, when Cantwell unseated Slade Gorton, her youth and his similarity to her positions were a fatal combination to Gorton.

Republicans need to ignore some of the hot button social issues that are nothing more than a distractions, and return to principles of limited and effective government, properly stewarding the people's money that government appropriates. And uphold the consitution in its strict construction.

Posted Sun, Nov 9, 3:54 p.m. Inappropriate

LimitGovGuy,

The problem is that the Washington State GOP has tried to run extremely conservative governor candidates fairly recently. Ellen Craswell was the very definition of an extremely conservative candidate. She was an enormous contrast to Gary Locke. She lost horribly.

John Carlson also provided a contrast to Gary Locke. I don't know how conservative he really was, but he also lost badly.

It could be that there's just no formula for success. However, I think Rossi did better than both Craswell and Carlson.

sdstarr

Posted Mon, Nov 10, 3:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Re the map for the presidential race, it's probably a good idea to trot this page out again: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/2008/

I'd love to see the Secretary of State's office put out similar cartograms for Washington and its counties by precinct.

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