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The real reason Dino Rossi lost

A veteran public affairs consultant argues that the Rossi race was on track to a win with one month to go. As the Market plummeted, reminding voters of Bush's unpopularity, it took Rossi down with the Dow.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, left, and GOP challenger Dino Rossi endured close races in 2008 and, especially, 2004. (KOMO-TV)

Gov. Chris Gregoire, left, and GOP challenger Dino Rossi endured close races in 2008 and, especially, 2004. (KOMO-TV)

Elections always produce surprises, and this year the biggest surprise was the lack of drama in the Governor’s race. After four years of anticipating a cliffhanger, instead the networks called it for Gov. Chris Gregoire before we went to bed on election night, and Dino Rossi conceded the next day. Not surprisingly, myths are already taking hold. In my view, some of these interpretations are wrong, and they overlook a loud distress signal for Republicans & mdash; their plummeting appeal in King County suburbs.

Pollster Stuart Elway has written on Crosscut that his polling indicated the race, "was never close.” Gregoire campaign manager Kelly Evans quickly released a memo claiming that their campaign’s tactics produced the clear victory. In the meantime, pundits talked about the enormous turnout of young, first-time Obama voters and the “blue tide” they created.

The truth is voter turnout was not extraordinary or unusual. Moreover, the Governor’s race was close until events — not tactics — created a blue tide that swept Dino Rossi away. For Republicans, it is important to understand what really happened in this election in order to understand how the Party must change in order to win.

Let’s address turnout first. This year, the turnout of registered voters in Washington was 84.6 percent, up slightly over 2004’s 82.2 percent. Just over 3 million Washingtonians cast ballots, an increase of 6.5 percent over the number of ballots cast in 2004 — an increase, but hardly unusual. By contrast, the number of votes increased by 14.6 percent in 2004 over 2000, and by 21 percent in 1992 over 1988. After all the hype, there wasn’t a massive of flood of new voters in 2008.

There were, of course, new voters, but surprisingly they did not come from King County, where turnout was only slightly higher than in 2004. King County’s share of the statewide vote actually fell from 31.2 percent in 2004 to 30.3 percent in 2008. King County only increased its number of votes by 3.5 percent over four years ago. In contrast, the number of ballots cast increased by 12 percent in Thurston County, by 11in Whatcom, and by 9 in Snohomish, Spokane, and Benton. Clearly, the 2008 turnout numbers show a trend of population growth outside King County, and don’t show a tidal wave of young, urban Obama voters.

All this raises the next logical question: If it wasn’t turnout, why wasn’t the race as close as in 2004? Elway believes Dino Rossi was doomed from the start, adding that his polling indicated that Gov. Gregoire was more “likeable,” that voters didn’t want change in Olympia, and unlike in 2004, that Dino Rossi was seen this time as too conservative. Elway’s final poll showed Gregoire winning comfortably, as happened, but what about his claim that the race was “never close"? Here there is a lot of contradictory evidence.

For months, poll after poll showed the Governor’s race dead even. In September, both private and media polling showed Rossi pulling ahead. In October and down the stretch drive, again both private and public polls showed Gregoire surging, and then pulling comfortably ahead. Every other pollster indicated that the race was close until the final month, so was Elway the only one to get it right? That would be easier to believe if Elway's poll had been right across the board. Elway had Gregoire ahead by 16 percent in August, yet Rossi only “lost" the primary election by 2 percent. Elway’s October 21 poll also showed Doug Sutherland ahead (who eventually lost the Land Commissioner's race by a squeaker), and showed Tim Eyman’s Initiative 985 ahead by 49-33 (it lost by a big margin). Elway says his methods differ from other pollsters, and he often gets different results. His final poll in the Governor’s race was substantially on the mark, but to say the race was never close isn’t supported by the other evidence.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 6:18 a.m. Inappropriate

The challenge for the Republicans is to speak to independents effectively, perhaps especially those that have no desire to join the party. Rossi definitely focused less on the middle this time around and spoke to the base, same challenge McCain faced. But Rossi also isn't a McCain, he's much more of a Bush, which Gregoire effectively pointed out - a likeable guy, but still an old school republican at heart.

Republicans need to go back to school themselves and start talking about real capitalism not the corporatist corruption that has become the signature of the national party.

As it stands now, the Dems are the much better choice for the integrity of the economy, after all, a free market democracy is based on the ability of it's individual members to be compensated for their endeavors, not some false corporate communist idol of 'competition'.

A tyrant with a smile on his face is still a tyrant, no matter what Gerry Alexander says...

-Douglas Tooley
http://motleytools.com/blog

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate

I thought Rossi lost because Gregoire lied through her teeth about the Deficit and she had friends willing to abuse the legal system (Ireland/Utter/Lowney)on her behalf. To those tens of thousands about to lose your jobs...thanks for the vote.

Cameron

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 7:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Advice from a moderate independent: Follow Chris Vance's advice, if not his philosophy. He was quite right wing when the Republicans swept several years ago, but one of the first to advise Republicans to atleast appear moderate and cater to the suburbs when things began to turn.

Correct approach, but Republicans need to stop appearing to be moderate simply as a tactic to win. The GOP (that means Grand Old Party, by the way) needs to disavow the extreme right wing and in fact moderate its views and approach. The Mainstream Republicans, Dan Evans or Fred Jarrett approaches should serve as models. Once the public sees that you are heartfelt in changing your approach to Washington State politics, it might take you seriously next time around.

chance

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Well yes, has there ever been an administration in recent memory except possibly in Argentina in the 80s that ruined a country in a few short years as Bush/Cheney did since 2001!? The Iraq fiasco, Katrina and now the comeuppance on greed and out of control national debt gone wild! However, if one is to believe Mr. Massing's piece in the NYRB,
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22155
one major reason that McCain lost by such a whopping margin is that a great percentage of Republicans.... simply stayed home... the prospect of a doddering old flier boy and Caribou Barbie was too much for quite a percentage of these folk. Appealing to independents won't save the Republican party, it is too deeply encumbered by its old "southern" [i.e racist] strategy; its utter disregard of its claims to fiscal responsibility and small governments, shibboleths that are trotted out to solicit the electorate and then promptly forgotten; and then it has its lunatic fringe of Paleolithic Palinites; it is too beholden to corrupt lobbyists; it is surprising that the party actually till has some fine governors and Senators such as Chuck Hagel in its midst. But as a party it has done too many ugly deeds, it's neo-con [bluntly put: fascist] side doesn't help either. What's an independent to like?

mikerol

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

You're using total vote counts as the evidence for a lack of new voters?

I suspect turnout was low among some past voters, such as disaffected republicans. That would leave room for lots of new voters without a big increase in votes.

mhays

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 9:23 a.m. Inappropriate

"I suspect turnout was low among some past voters, such as disaffected republicans. That would leave room for lots of new voters without a big increase in votes."

At some point a check of the voter file could confirm this, but I really doubt that a significant percentage of voters who voted in 2004 chose not to vote in 2008.

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Jeez, why would anyone care at this point about yet one more self-interested player in this game speculate, in a self-interested way, as to why Dino lost? Move on already ....

dj

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 9:48 a.m. Inappropriate

"It wasn’t new voters that made this difference; it was a continuation of the long-term erosion of Republican support among suburbanites."

Why wasn't this trend reflected in the State House and Senate races? Republicans picked up one seat in each chamber.

eristalis

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 10:05 a.m. Inappropriate

The reason Rossi lost is because he didn't campaign in King County or even try to appeal to left-center and left voters Western Washington. It is very hard for a Republican to come from a socially rightwing ideology and win statewide offices; a socially moderate/populist Republican who can appeal to at least left-center Western Washington voters will find it easy to win statewide offices. The Washington State GOP will continue to wallow in irrelevance until they ease up ideologically on social issues. Period.

smacgry

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

"Why wasn't this trend reflected in the State House and Senate races? Republicans picked up one seat in each chamber."

— eristalis

Some Republicans were able to rise above the tide. McKenna and Reichert for instance. The dynamics of indivdual races matter. But Republicans didn't win back any seats in the King County suburbs, and the top of our ticket fared worse than it did in 2004.

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Of the nations 3,115 counties, 2,437 voted more Democratic in 2008 than 2004 and 678 voted more Republican in 2008 than in 2004 as measured by the Presidential Vote. The counties that voted more Democratic were proportionately more Black and more Hispanic, they have a college educated population that is significantly higher as a percentage, are significantly more dense per square mile, have a much lower percentage of the population with incomes under $30,000, a higher percentage of Catholics and a lower percentage of Southern Baptists and a higher rate of population growth between 2000 and 2007. Republican carried counties tended to be lower income, less educated, more rural, less diverse and Southern.

What happened in Washington State and King County was part of a national phenomenon. With very few exceptions Republicans lost the suburban vote around medium and large cities across the country except for parts of the South and Appalachia.

The Republican Party has a fundamental message problem with voters who represent a majority of Washington State and many other states.

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

A few days into voting (remember, the booth is open for twenty days or so) Obama's victory--across the country--began to look plausible--at least, predicted by the pundits--as his message of 'hope' caught on, and he steadily pulled up in the polls. A challenger had to be able, as did Obama, to carry the two edge sword--of criticism or need for a change, and hope in himself or herself as the agent of agent, a positive message. Rossi almost pulled it off--but in the end, his message resonated on the need for change but the overbearing negativity of his campaign (ie, the diaper ad) kept Rossi from being seen as the friendly neighborhood change agent (Governor Palin, read 'community organizer'). Governor Gregoire managed - barely - to hang on to that. Attributing a Rossi loss to economic background radioactivity only takes you so far---how, in light of it, do you explain all the tax issues like megabillions Prop 1 passing? Poll numbers on that were hardly predictive. Ultimately, it seems the voters simply marked the ballot for things--or people--that sounded nice, or were at least, nicer, or were steadier or more perceived as a problem solver, in light of all the bad news with which they were confronted.

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Incredibly this is kind of dim-witted. Why? Because it ignores the fact that Gregoire won only 13 counties, all on the Sound, and Rossi won the rest of the State. He lost because he did too little to win! While he traveled a lot, his political focus was blurred. People wanted something and someone to vote for, that is also why so many threw out their critical thinking and voted for Obama. Rossi needed to have as his slogan: Reelect Rossi! And he needed to hammer the fact of Gregoire's bloated government and her lack of leadership. He did neither. Republicans will continue to lose elections if they become moderates like Rossi. If you critically look at how Obama ran his campaign many of you would be surprised to see it was very similar to Reagan's. He gave the people something to vote for. Gregoire won because she was a Democrat on the ballot and she campaigned in areas where she knew that if she could get the majority of the vote, King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties, she would win. She did and she did.

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

I take issue with ratcityrepobate's assessment. Sure, McCain lost the suburban vote, but there isn't much evidence of an across-the-board trend in our state. Republicans won in many of Washington's suburbs. Look to Vance's examples of McKenna and Reichert above, as well as the state legislative races.

Obama won big, and the governor race was clearly not a repeat of 2004, but our state didn't see a Democratic wave akin to what the Republicans accomplished in '94. Do Republicans have a "fundamental message problem" in Washington? I'm not convinced.

eristalis

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 11:47 a.m. Inappropriate

By the way, notice how much "Change" Obama is giving us? All Clintonistas! The only change people will have is what is left in their pockets while standing in soup lines by the housing mess created by Democrats in Congress. I know, let's just have ANOTHER stimulus package! 700 billion here and 700 billion there... What's a few more trillions? And all of you liberals thought the War in Iraq was costing us too much. Ha! Ha! Ha! What is Gregoire's solution? Like all Democrat governors faced with their own tax and spend created financial mess... ask for a bailout from the Feds!

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

wishful thinking

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 7:09 p.m. Inappropriate

I found some of the Rossi ads incredibly offputting -- like the one blaming the Governor for sexual assaults. And of course there were the "Don't let Seattle steal the election" ads, which weren't seen in King County but were well-publicized around the state.

Allowing your allies to dump on the biggest concentration of voters in the state -- that probably didn't help Rossi any.

DannyK

Posted Wed, Dec 3, 11:13 p.m. Inappropriate

"Incredibly this is kind of dim-witted. Why? Because it ignores the fact that Gregoire won only 13 counties, all on the Sound, and Rossi won the rest of the State."

Combined total of Rossi votes in:
Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin and Garfield counties: 91,652

Total Gregoire in Spokane county: 92,407

One person, one vote is the rule. Okanogan county takes up a huge part of the state but the total vote count for Okanogan county was only 16,743.

Posted Thu, Dec 4, 7:51 a.m. Inappropriate

I suppose that if you are going to count to post-convention GOP poll bump you could argue that the race could have been closer. And yes, the Bush market downturn didn't help. But you can't count the primary numbers as a knock against polls that showed there was no race - those polls didn't measure primary voters and there weren't very many primary voters.

Rossi lost for multiple reasons even though some Republicans bucked the blue trend.

He was lackluster in debates. He chose the wrong topics for his advertising blitz that backfired. The Gregoire campaign did do a better job of defining Rossi as a Bush clone and a conservative out of sync with the values of the state - which Rossi reinforced. Rossi also played dodge ball on so many things you got the idea he couldn't be trusted. The BIAW didn't do him any favors either - and Rossi stupidly did things to reinforce strong ties with BIAW radicalism

The actual election results tell the story for Republicans: Reichert, a lackluster Member of Congress, won again by running as a moderate against a lackluster opponent. McKenna won by running on his record and to the middle. Reed also won on competence and moderation. Martin came close on competence and bipartisanship.

Republicans can win if they run as reasonable people. Rossi didn't measure up and his oh so clever campaign tactics didn't help him.

Jan

Posted Thu, Dec 4, 11:23 a.m. Inappropriate

I have to say that both candidates for governor had things to commend them and other things that didn't. Unfortunately, whatever I don't like about Gregoire is outweighed by my perception of Rossi. Early on this year I'd read that he'd purchased a Ford Escape Hybrid in what I surmised to be a 'makeover' for him. When I saw the hybrid logo zoomed in on in his gas station TV commercial admonishing us to do more for transportation, I gagged.

The mano-a-mano commercials that he and Gregoire put up increased my level of revulsion with the political process and I found Rossi's ads and those of the BIAW to be muddy as they come. Oh, yes, the teachers did their thing for Gregoire as did the Democratic Party, but Rossi and his cronies were patently offensive with theirs.

Beyond that, I had to ask what, in fact, had Dino Rossi been doing for the state in the past four years? Answer: Not much.

So, as to Elway's polls, Rasmussen, etc., I agree with one of the other comments - get over it and move on. In the meantime, the Republican party has some heavy soul-searching to do if it ever intends to be majority party. The statistics on young voters signing up is overwhelmingly in favor of the Ds.

MukMan

Posted Thu, Dec 4, 1:02 p.m. Inappropriate

"For months, poll after poll showed the Governor’s race dead even."

It looks to me that for the year prior to the election poll after poll showed Gregoire ahead.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/governor/wa/washington_governor-584.html

Posted Thu, Dec 4, 9:16 p.m. Inappropriate

And another thing.

Wasn't Chris Vance one of the early advocates of the "Rossi is the way to reinvigorate the state GOP" crowd?

Chris's words now appear to attempt to justify that strategy - at least that seems to be part of the motive. It would have worked if not for the desperate state of the Bush economy this fall? Not buying it.

If the GOP really wants a future it just needs to move beyond the heavy investment Rossi rapture. John Stanton - a remarkably capable guy - and a few others could have probably beat Gregoire in 08.

Jan

Posted Thu, Dec 4, 9:27 p.m. Inappropriate

The article strikes me as a white propaganda-ish attempt to rewrite history. An attempt to turn what was very much a Democratic win and a Republican loss into a Republican loss do to circumstances beyond anyone's control.

Sorry, you don't get a 6.5% win from a bad economy turning worse. This election wasn't a the Democrats snatching a win away from the Republicans at the last minute. Look for yourselves:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/governor/wa/washington_governor-584.html

Posted Fri, Dec 5, 2:29 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree the election outcome was largely a result of the country's financial crisis that developed during the campaign. It's a crisis caused by policies endorsed by Rossi, and voters realized this. The Gregoire campaign communicated that point very effectively, and drove it home. So, Rossi lost because voters realized his policy ideas don't work, as evidenced by the financial crisis.

Posted Fri, Dec 5, 2:35 p.m. Inappropriate

First, Rossi going with the "GOP" tag instead of sticking with Republican showed his strategy...which the voters simply didn't buy.

The numbers:

Rossi got 25,486 less votes in King County, only out done by McCain who received 41,327 less votes than Bush did in '04. Gregoire received 15% more votes in King than she did in 2004.

But, here's where Vance should be scared. In red state Spokane, Gregoire rode the Dem wave, gaining 13,788 votes over her '04 totals, whereas Rossi only gained 6,986. That's a 15.2% improvement for her, and only 6.6% for Rossi.

In Spokane, Obama obliterated McCain in terms of "party gains". While he lost the county overall, Obama improved by 18,296 votes (nearly 21%) over Kerry's total in '04, while McCain actually received 3,292 LESS votes than Bush did in the county.

All these big gains in 'red' areas add up to a blue win statewide, and if you look at the data, Gregoire held onto the down ticket gains.

Mr. Vance, your party has a problem, sir, but in this election it wasn't limited to the King County area.

bizness

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