At times this year seemed like 1968 — nasty wars (two this time), cultural divides, a hated president unable to appear at his own party’s national convention. At other times it seemed like 1960 — a young and articulate president-elect, generational excitement, a new “brain trust” replacing the tired suits in Washington, D.C.
The hopes of 1960 were strangled in the jungles of Vietnam by 1968, and an entire generation was at war with themselves and the culture of their parents. In the Northwest, the entrenched partnership of Republican moderates with regional business leaders began to lose its edge. New political powers, particularly women and public-sector unions, appeared on the statewide scene and, four decades later, they call the shots.
By 2008, our region was so predictably Democratic that we were irrelevant in the national election, and largely ignored in the building of the Obama team. Oregon, for the first time since statehood, will have no Republican in statewide office. Washington Republicans are down to Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna.
The ability of Republicans to begin rebuilding in 2009 will depend in large measure on how President-elect Barack Obama handles his pledge to reduce partisanship, and how the Republican minority in Congress mounts the opposition. If national Republicans withdraw to their Southern base, laced with fundamentalist religion and not-so-subtle racism, Northwest Republicans will face the same embarrassment that their Democratic colleagues faced in the 1950s. Northwest Democrats of that era always had Strom Thurmond and James Eastland to explain. Northwest Republicans in 2009 will not progress if their national party leadership thinks “Barack the Magic Negro” is funny.
Northwest Republicans in 2009 also would have to try to begin rebuilding their bench. The lack of depth is most apparent in Oregon, but in Washington the old team is also worn out and there is little in reserve. Republicans have always drawn from leaders in business and local government, and local elections in 2009 will give the party a chance to build that next team.
Political watchers should keep their eye on those campaigns, particularly in urban areas such as Spokane, Vancouver, and Snohomish County. Regional Republicans should pray for national party leaders that won’t be embarrassing in the progressive Northwest. The twin towers of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh would make the Northwest flyover territory for Republicans for years to come.
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