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I won 38 of 39 counties in the primary, but to no avail. Gary’s final winning percentage in November: 58 percent.
2004: Dino Rossi vs. Chris Gregoire. At a time of hyper partisanship nationally, state Sen. Dino Rossi became a political star in Olympia for reaching across the aisle to produce a no-new taxes budget with key Democrats. Together with an inspiring life story — the son of a school teacher who worked his way through college sweeping the floors at the Space Needle — he was the face of the New Republican party. It resulted in the closest race for governor in American history, which Gregoire was awarded on a third count, after losing the initial count, and a recount, to Rossi.
One interesting side note: The 2004 campaign was twice as expensive as any previous run for governor, and the trend has accelerated. In 2000, about $6.5 million was spent on the governor’s race by the candidates, political parties and third parties. In 2004 it passed $15 million. In 2012, more than $45 million.
2008: A rematch. Gregoire’s 133 vote victory was pricey: She spiked state spending by a third in just four years. Rossi argued that her spending spree had put us on an unsustainable path, making a balanced budget impossible regardless of what happened to the economy. Gregoire shot back that Rossi’s claims of a $2.5 billion shortfall were gross exaggerations.
Not exactly. Five months after the election the shortfall was closer to $5 billion. But timing was once again on Gregoire's side: The Obama campaign generated huge crowds and enthusiasm, as he swept to a 16 point victory here over John McCain. Rossi ran 10 points ahead of his party’s presidential candidate, but still fell six points short of taking out the incumbent governor.
2012: Republican Heartbreak. Attorney General Rob McKenna, the best prepared, best organized, best funded Republican in a generation, runs against the guy who ran a distant third for governor 16 years before. Six months before the election, well-placed Democrats were quietly predicting a McKenna victory. Ninety days before the end, some of these same Democrats started hedging. Thirty days out, they started predicting a Jay Inslee victory.
It wasn't because McKenna was running a bad campaign. To the contrary, it was remarkably efficient and disciplined, with the party's top political mind, Randy Pepple, at the helm. But Inslee's early ads were better, particularly the “Bulldozer” biography spot, and the national party's ads for McKenna were head scratchers. I'm still trying to figure out who they were targeting with the five old men kvetching about Inslee at the diner. Was the old codger vote not already in the Republican column?
On Election Day, McKenna's internal polls showed him up, as they had for the previous week and a half. But instead he comes up 3 percentage points short. What happened?
Simply this: More Democrats were excited about voting for Obama than Republicans were about voting for Romney — and it hurt every other Republican down the ballot. A superb Crosscut piece by Chris Vance spelled it out, county by county. A slight voter drop-off in Democrat-heavy Seattle vs. a 5 to 9 point drop-off in Republican leaning counties in central, eastern and western Washington. That's pretty much the way it played out in Ohio and all the other swing states. McKenna’s polls were probably accurate. But if your people don't turn out, it doesn't matter. Jay Inslee told me he didn’t know whether he would win or not on Election Day, though Democratic State Chairman Dwight Pelz believed, based on sophisticated modeling, that Inslee was going to take it.
The outlook for many Republicans is bleak but not dire (they actually gained seats in the state Legislature) and nowhere near as depressing as 1992, the year the Clinton-Lowry-Murray landslide delivered eight of nine congressional seats to Democrats, along with a handsome legislative majority in both state Houses. Just one year later, liberal overreach provoked voters to put a brake on state spending (I-601) and pass America's first "Three Strikes, You're Out" law. A year after that a Republican tidal wave washed away the Democratic majorities in Olympia and reversed the 8-1 Demo majority in Congress to 7-2 Republican (the current configuration is 6-4 Democrat).
So yes, even as Washington’s hue remains blue, Republicans can regroup and regain lost ground. But it sure would help if Jim McDermott wanted to be governor again …
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