Is Washington state now, like California, a one-party state? Possibly so, but there are some caveats to such a conclusion.
The election tinted Washington a deeper shade of blue. Republicans failed to gain three critical open statewide offices (governor, attorney general, auditor) and lost three open Congressional races (the new 10th, the reshaped 1st, and Norm Dicks' fiefdom, the 6th); nor could the party take the state Senate, as once forecast. The GOP lost two fronts in the culture wars: gay marriage and pot legalization. Its sole shows of strength were passing another supermajority initiative by Tim Eyman and allowing charter schools.
If Washington is now a permanently blue state, with Democrats in control of all the key state offices and the legislature, it is hardly alone as a single-party state. Fully 46 states now have a single party in control of both chambers of the legislature. (The exceptions: Iowa, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and unicameral Nebraska.) A Pew survey finds more than a third of states with supermajority control. As for states where the governor is a different party than the legislature, that number is down to 12.
But even if the states are tilting toward one party or the other, the nation remains closely divided. In legislatures, Democrats gained eight chambers overall, to the Republicans four. And remember that Romney won 24 states, some by wide margins. Republicans control the House and, through the filibuster, semi-control the Senate. Republicans held every governor's mansion up for re-election, added North Carolina, and now have 30 governorships, the highest total in 12 years.
The Democratic sweep in Washington, taking all the top statewide offices except Secretary of State (long a token Republican slot), is not surprising. Republican turnout was low (no real contest for the presidency or for Sen. Maria Cantwell’s seat), Rob McKenna proved an unexciting candidate who ran a mediocre campaign and Gov.-elect Jay Inslee rode a tested locomotive into office (turn out the base, say little that could offend, and demonize the Republican as extreme on women's issues and the environment).
California, electing super-majorities to both chambers for the first time in 79 years, is an extreme case of this tilt. As goes California in politics, so goes Washington state. The Evergreen State is purple no more.
The polarization of the states illustrates the thesis of an interesting new book, The Big Sort, by Bill Bishop, which shows “how Americans have sorted themselves geographically, economically and politically into like-minded communities over the last three decades. Homogeneity may be a perk of the unprecedented choice our society offers — but it also breeds economic inequality, cultural misunderstanding, political extremism and legislative gridlock.”
In this state, Republicans have brought a permanent minority status upon themselves, not just by failing to adapt to growing demographic trends (minorities, highly educated technical workers) that favor the Democrats.
For the past two decades, the state GOP has been controlled, at the grassroots level, by Christian conservatives and rural, small-government politicians. In 1996, the party ran the evangelical Christian Ellen Craswell, and in 2000 the talk-show conservative John Carlson, both of whom lost badly to Gov. Gary Locke.
For the past three elections, the state GOP has hoped to solve its statewide problems by electing a softer-edge, suburban King County candidate, thinking that the only way to save the party was to elect a centrist governor who could then rebuild the party, top-down. Dino Rossi tried twice, but couldn’t overcome his casual, substance-free persona.
McKenna has long been the great hope, being very substantive and willing to cross-dress politically by trying to get to the left of Democrats on education funding. It didn't help that he ran in a year where Gov. Romney gave this kind of repositioning a bad name, and McKenna came off as too much of a wonky creature of government and policy-shops. His critical mistakes, in appealing to independents, were opposing Obamacare in the courts and backing the Eyman approach to hamstringing government.
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