Rob McKenna finds a path to Obama voters

Numbers alone show that the Republican candidate is picking up support from many Obama voters in a very Democratic state. Suburban voters are less likely to pay attention to ideology and more attuned to his education messages.
Rob McKenna during an appearance on KCTS with Enrique Cerna

Rob McKenna during an appearance on KCTS with Enrique Cerna KCTS 9/Flickr

For the most part, Seattle liberals see a disconnect when it comes to swing voters. How could a pretty reliably blue state split its vote between progressive Democrat Barack Obama and Mitt Romney-supporting Republican Rob McKenna?

The inconsistency, ideologically, is clear. One candidate spent his political capital creating Obamacare; the other spent his political capital fighting it in court. One called Paul Ryan's budget plans a "radical" "Trojan Horse" that is "thinly veiled Social Darwinism." The other said of Ryan, "There's no better expert on the federal budget than Representative Ryan."

One supports marriage equality; the other does not.

For the sake of ideological consistency, one might assume that the only choice is for Obama supporters to back liberal Congressman Jay Inslee against McKenna in the race for governor. If that were so, McKenna would be sinking out of sight. But he's not. If recent King 5 polls are correct, Inslee currently leads McKenna by six points in the governor's race (48-42 percent), a good margin. But Obama leads Romney by an astonishing 20 points (56-36). Simple math suggests that there must be a large percentage of voters planning to vote Obama-McKenna.

There are a number of reasons why ideological litmus tests break down on the local level.

One interesting feature of the current gubernatorial campaign is that both candidates are suburban guys —  McKenna from Bellevue, Inslee from Bainbridge Island. McKenna has seen split votes before; that's how he got to be attorney general. Inslee has been in Congress on both sides of the state, at one time representing a predominantly Republican district in Eastern Washington. Both feel comfortable in political Dockers —  giving you a skosh more room ideologically. Suburban Democrats can be more pro-business and a tad more fiscally conservative, Republicans can be a bit more "pro-choice" and less socially conservative.

Washington voters also lean toward non-ideological governors, tending to prefer centrists in either party like Dan Evans, John Spellman, Booth Gardner and Gary Locke over too-liberal candidates (Jim McDermott) or too-conservative ones (Ellen Craswell, John Carlson).

This suits many suburban swing voters who are used to occupying a kind of middle ground, don't care much about party, but do about results. It's also the reason the suburbs tend to produce party-flippers (Kirkland's Bill Finkbeiner, Medina's Rodney Tom, and Mercer Island's Fred Jarett come to mind).

In areas like the Eastside which are undergoing a kind of ideological shifting —  from red to blue — it shouldn't be surprising that individual voters too are undergoing slow transformations and are in the purple zone. They tend to value pragmatism over purity.

Another reason is that voters are able to differentiate between national and state issues, and candidate temperaments. No one is expecting McKenna to run the Pentagon or conduct foreign policy. He has a track record of running the AG's office well, a sign of executive ability. Will he get roads built? Will he keep the ferries afloat? Will he get funding for his alma mater, the University of Washington?

He's made education the centerpiece of his campaign with a commitment to spending more on it; he's no Craswell. Education, including higher-ed, is a huge suburban priority. Many people live there simply because the schools are often much better.

And many independent voters probably conclude that the smart, well-informed McKenna is better than many of the candidates the state GOP has put up for the office in recent decades, certainly the best candidate since Spellman, elected in 1980 and the last Republican in the governor's mansion. McKenna seems brighter and is more experienced than Dino Rossi, who almost won the first time around, thanks to suburban "Dinocrats."

The Seattle Times editorial page, historically never a place burdened by the hobgoblin of consistency, offers a look inside an Obama-McKenna  mindset (it endorsed both candidates). it is backing Obama without much enthusiasm, its conclusion being that Romney is too much of a gamble, though they never really made that case. In fact, the endorsement read mostly as a slam on Obama save for his being a voice of "reform" in education (meaning pro-charter schools). The endorsement was a litany of his failures, with a pivot at the end: We think he might do better in his second term. Really? It sure didn't sound like it. Apparently the magnetism of Obama combined with the lackluster Romney was enough to pull The Times limply into the president's camp.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Oct 8, 8:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Meanwhile Jay Inslee puts out an ad that lies about an education idea regarding a property tax swap that McKenna supports and is embraced by many Democrats and education reformers. The Times was very charitable in calling Inslee's add "half true," although the part they found true was not the nub of the issue.

Inslee, who thinks the way to create jobs is create another state agency, who isn't ready to commit to raising funds to meet critical transportation needs (which would also create jobs), and who wants to create "green jobs" which sounds nice but in reality is largely a pipe dream, has no clue. After all, look at his record in Congress. But he's got a D after his name, which is enough for many people to simply fall in line regardless of how ill-equipped he is.

Posted Mon, Oct 8, 11:04 a.m. Inappropriate

The problem with the unending campaign to "fix" education is that throwing more money at it hasn't worked and isn't working. The elephant in the room that many are ignoring is that when children are undernourished and their parents themselves are undereducated and working two or three part-time jobs, emphasis in the home on education is non-existent. A poorly fed kid in a disadvantaged home will not suddenly become a great student with a bright future because we throw more money at education. Schools may have some problems, but the lack of achievement is the result of social want. Until that's fixed no amount of money will help disadvantaged kids.

mspat

Posted Mon, Oct 8, 2:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, Knute, for pointing out at the end that the next Washington governor will have a major role in deciding whether to implement or not implement the federal Affordable Care Act. Washington voters need to pay attention because that's going to make a big difference for many folks. Inslee is committed to implementing the ACA's Medicaid expansion to people up to 138 percent of poverty, while McKenna has strongly suggested that he would not implement the expansion, at least without major Medicaid changes like converting to a capped, state block-grant system. Washington health care providers and plans already are gearing up to use the Medicaid expansion to improve population health through coordinated-care systems. It would be a huge setback if the next governor rejects the Medicaid expansion. McKenna says he's prefer that those folks obtain private health insurance. Yeah, like how are people below 138 percent of poverty supposed to afford that. We're waiting to hear more details from him on how he would accomplish that.

Posted Mon, Oct 8, 7:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute, you're giving McKenna a big pass. There is a national aspect to this Governor's race and it comes down to how the Republican party views the role of government. The education issue is a Trojan horse for McKenna, along with his plan to cut taxes. It's Romneyesque with a strong twist of Scott Walker - I.e. manufacture a budget crisis and then slash government programs. We have THE most regressive tax system in the nation and no mention of that by your guy McKenna. BTW, it's such a lame argument to assert that McKenna is more "local" and therefore deserves the governorship. I expect more in-depth analysis from your columns.

Posted Tue, Oct 9, 3:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Mckenna was a crummy AG. Mckenna is like Hillary Clinton, we constantly are told how intelligent they are, but they never say, write, or do anything that indicates any great intelligence. Mckenna is a Republican Party true believer, and is beholden to the National Republican Party.

jhande

Posted Wed, Oct 10, 10:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Inslee is New Deal retread, a tax & spend liberal from the Walter Mondale mold.

Posted Wed, Oct 10, 11:26 p.m. Inappropriate

There is no McKenna factor. That's why he's gonna lose. He's been on the wrong side of everything and everyone in this state knows it.

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