Washington's Republicans have to hope for a change in their party

Inside Politics: The demographics tell a story that party leaders could learn from. But will they?
Rob McKenna

Rob McKenna Anna Ream

All the numbers are in. Time for one last look at election 2012 and, more importantly, a look ahead at the immediate future of politics nationally and in Washington state. As the GOP seeks to reset itself it should actually look to the early days of the George W. Bush administration for guidance.

In terms of partisan politics, the election produced no real surprises. Republicans gained a net of one seat each in the state House and Senate. Sen. Maria Cantwell and all the congressional incumbents of both parties cruised to reelection. Democrats easily held the seat Norm Dicks vacated. Republicans have to be disappointed that they didn’t win the new 1st Congressional District, or at least come closer, but the real downer for the GOP was once again failing to win a major statewide race. Republicans have now failed to win a Senate race since 1994, and have failed to win a gubernatorial race since 1980.

Republican Rob McKenna won 10 percent of the Democratic vote, and 97 percent of the Republicans. He won among independents 53 percent to 47 percent. He captured the votes of 13 percent of those who voted for Barack Obama, and 18 percent of those who voted for Maria Cantwell. And yet he lost, 51.5 to 48.5 percent. Why?

Objectively, Democrat Jay Inslee defeated McKenna for two reasons:

1. McKenna lost King County 62 percent to 38 percent. Take away King County, and McKenna wins the election 53 percent to 47 percent. In fact, take away just the 7th congressional district (Seattle) and McKenna is elected by 88,000 votes. To win, a Republican must limit the damage in King County, and capture 40 percent of the vote.

2. Turnout was down overall, but not in King County. Compared to 2008, turnout was up by 1 percent in Walla Walla county and virtually unchanged in King County (83.9 percent to 83.6 percent). In the other 37 counties turnout was down, and, in many areas, down dramatically. As I wrote just after the election, turnout helped create an electorate that was even more Democratic than in 2008. 

McKenna didn’t do well enough in King County, and there weren’t enough Republican votes cast in the rest of the state do to make up the difference.

Subjectively, many theories are advanced after every election. In this case, I’m not sure there is anything Team McKenna could have done to change the outcome. Republicans just don’t win major statewide elections in blue states in Democratic years.

Politics was once about economics. Put very simply, rich people, professionals, owners and managers were Republicans, while poor people and blue collar workers were Democrats. Now politics in America is about race and culture. White voters — including white women — lean Republican. Non-white voters are overwhelming Democratic. Those who attend church weekly are strongly Republican; those who say they never attend church are strongly Democratic, according to exit polls nationally and in Washington state.

America is changing, both in terms of attitudes and demographics. The internet has been full of articles on this subject since the election, but the best concise summary of the situation I have seen comes from Moore Information, a Republican pollster in Portland. Moore writes:

But the math behind the inexorable drop in white voters as a percentage of the population is a truth that Republicans cannot deny. All things being equal, George Bush would not have been elected in 2000 with an electorate that looked like 2012. And Mitt Romney would have won in 2012 with an electorate that looked like 2000. The makeup of America is changing and in order for Republicans to remain relevant they need to recognize this hard reality.

Smart Republican leaders have seen this change coming for a long time. Eleven years ago I attended my first Republican National Committee meeting as the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party The theme of that meeting was how the GOP needed to change to meet the needs of a changing America. The Bush team saw the demographic trends that are becoming manifest now, and they knew they had to lead the party in a different direction. The emphasis was on tax cuts to spur growth, education reform and even immigration reform. The tone was one of bipartisan compromise, greater diversity and “compassionate conservatism.”  Remember George W. Bush working with Ted Kennedy? 


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 8:02 a.m. Inappropriate

But Chris, some things you've framed here are just silly. "Take away King County, and McKenna wins..." That's the problem. You *can't* take away King County and you never will be able to take away King County. The fact of the matter is politics is *not* driven exclusively by events. It is one of many drivers. Politics is also driven heavily by values and GOP values are not the values of the majority of voters that vote in this state - most of them women. It used to be the entire GOP supported contraception, a woman's right to choose, etc. Now the old white men think they can control a woman's body. Result? The rape caucus. Talk about a party that's cut off their own feet! Add to that national political talking heads with significant media platforms and they are leaving the GOP in droves, well, you got a real problem. Who's left the GOP? Michael Lind, followed by, among others, Andrew Sullivan, Fareed Zakaria, Francis Fukuyama, David Frum and Bruce Bartlett. Given that list you've got a party with deep, deep problems with values and message. You can't attend Tea Party rallies over the years as McKenna did, fail to come out in support of a woman's right to choose and then in the 11th hour tell voters you support women's reproductive rights and win in WA State. The tide turned fast in the last four years. The State GOP just got washed out with it decades ago given their failure to understand this state ain't South Carolina and never will be. It will happen again and again. It will be fun to watch.

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

My point was, McKenna didn't do well enough in King County.

And I agree with you that values have replaced economics as the main driver in terms of Party identification. But events heavily impact independents, and, therefore, election results.

Overall, I agree with you. Republicans need to change if they are going to win in Washington and other blue states.

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

I'd prefer to have the option to vote "R" in Washington State. for the first 15 years of my voting life, I could. For the past 20 yrs, I've only had the option to vote "D". What happened? The Republican Party (in Washington) left me, I didn't leave them. Come on back to the "Moderate" middle Washington GOP, and I'll be back.

hswIII

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 8:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Hswill,

You didn't consider McKenna a moderate? I think the big problem is at the national level.

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 9:01 a.m. Inappropriate

It's not going to be so easy for you, Chris. No matter if YOU think McKenna is a "moderate," whatever the hell that means anymore and whoever is to decide, we were successful in painting him as the Tea Party's candidate in enough people's minds to deny him an election that was his to lose.

Could McKenna have won, or have come as close to winning as he did, without Tea Party support? You know perfectly well that the answer is no. They're yours, pal, whether you like it or not. You can't win with them, and you can't win without them. No sympathy here. We have our own problems with the Roadklill lot.

ivan

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

So, the problem the GOP has is the Tea Party members, who are not moderate; and the problem the Democrats have is the Roadkill caucus, which is moderate? Or is there something about the Roadkills I'm missing?

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 10:42 p.m. Inappropriate

A true moderate would've taken a pass on the Republican AG's lawsuit against Obamacare. He could've still been against the plan to appease the right. Joining the suit just gave the Dems ammunition to paint him as a right winger.

And that speech to the Tea Party on the capitol grounds? That was not the action of a moderate. More ammunition for the Dems.

And McKenna's policy problems were compounded by his personal style. In contrast to Inslee's folksy charm, McKenna came across as a lecturer. Too often he was talking down to people, and that was made worse by the nasally tone of his voice.

He needed coaching on his presentation skills, but as a two-term Attorney General, with everyone in the Party telling him the Governorship was his for the taking, I'm sure that never occurred to him or his handlers.

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 11:36 p.m. Inappropriate

I didn't consider Mckenna a moderate. Mckenna spent too much time out of state at Republican events, and in Washington DC with Republican leaders to be considered a moderate. Mckenna had no new ideas, and the ideas he did have were stale. Then, when one looks at who donated to Mckenna, and bankrolled the pro-Mckenna media; it is almost impossible to consider Mckenna a moderate. Mckenna does what the Republican Party tells him to do, and that is not moderate.

jhande

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

As a Democrat, I hope that your efforts are successful. Extended single party rule works as poorly as having two parties whose views are so incompatible as to preclude compromise.

Having recently moved to Tennessee and becoming one of those hapless Southern Democrats you mentioned, I would have to advise against trying to disconnect from the national party. I don't think it can be done. For years Tennessee Democrats have been practicing the "good old boys" model, deemphasizing such divisive issues as taxes, social policy, immigration, or really anything that voters might care about. The result is that not only are we a minority, but an ineffective minority who just nominated one of the most embarrassing candidates for statewide office imaginable.

Not just the state Republican party but the national party is in a process of evaluation its position. If the new state senate coalition is successful, it could become a model for DC in how bipartisan governance, which comes from Republican values but is aimed at the full state, could be done. One opening comes from this fiscal cliff debacle. I think that Obama made an error by putting too much emphasis on the issue of upper class taxes and ignoring entitlement reform, which he promised to address during the campaign, and this could be the basis of the Republican offer for the next debt ceiling round in February.

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 11:39 p.m. Inappropriate

There is no "coalition" in the Washington State Senate. Two guys that lied about their party affiliation on the ballot, joining up with all of the lockstep marching Republican senators is not a coalition.

jhande

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 11:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Pepper, I do not believe you are a Democrat. Here is why: You hope the Republicans are "successful";
You do not think it is good that Democrats win elections (Extended single party rule...);
You give credence to a faux-coalition and think it could be a "model";
You want "...bipartisan governance, which comes from Republican values...";
You think there is too much "emphasis" on "upper class taxes";
You think there is not enough emphasis on "...entitlement reform";
You use the term "entitlement";
and you strategize for "...the Republican offer for the next debt ceiling round in February".

That is why I do not think you are a Democrat. I think you are a Republican, who says they are a Democrat. I don't like Democrats or Republicans, and can smell out partisan chicanery easily. It is common for a member of one of the parties to pretend to be of the other party in order to shill.

jhande

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 2:06 p.m. Inappropriate

The Democratic party is large and encompasses a wide range of views. I feel right at home in the party of Jefferson, Jackson, and FDR. But all institutions, including political parties and ideologies, have their limitations, and it is hardly partisan chicanery to express those limitations when appropriate.

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 12:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Chris Vance states: " In this case, I’m not sure there is anything Team McKenna could have done to change the outcome" and then goes on to say "There is nothing Rob McKenna could do or say that was going to overcome the image of the GOP created by national events and the party’s national leaders." What a load of rubbish. If Rob McKenna had not been backed the challenge to Obamacare he would have gotten two more votes from my King County household alone. This silly quixotic move negated years of hard work culturing an image as a moderate and cost him the election.

As for the rest of the article, I rather wonder why Chris Vance doesn't run for office himself. I would vote for him if this is what he really believes.

WSDW

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 1:03 p.m. Inappropriate

So many people have made this argument about the healthcare lawsuit. Three things:

1. Obamacare is not popular. Most voters here, and nationally, would support its repeal.

2. If McKenna had not joined the other GOP AGs he would have lost a lot of votes on the right.

3. Most importantly, Rob - and 4 Supreme Court Justices - were convinced the individual mandate was unconstitutional.

I am convinced most people who say, "If only for the lawsuit..." are really Ds who would never have voted for McKenna.

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 1:29 p.m. Inappropriate

The individual mandate was actually an idea that the Republicans promoted in the early 1990's as a pragmatic and moderate solution to provide healthcare irrespective of preexisting conditions. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the rightward drift of the Republican party nationally over the past two decades and the reason why they have such a tough time in Washington State which has not similarly drifted right.

As for whether most voters support the repeal of Obamacare, Chris should know that the answer to that questions depends very strongly on how it is asked - voters like the insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions which off course are impossible to preserve without some mandate to require healthy people to buy insurance. Moreover, as numerous thoughtful pundits on both the right and the left had explained, repealing it outright would create chaos in the healthcare system that would undoubtedly be very unpopular.

WSDW

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

The least popular part of Obamacare is the individual mandate.

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 10:24 p.m. Inappropriate

You're right, WSDW, about the history of the Individual Mandate. And it's peculiar indeed how this Republican idea was just fine -- until it was embraced by those danged Democrats. Republican practice seems to be: If the Democrats are for it, we must be against it, even if it was our policy in the first place.

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 12:12 a.m. Inappropriate

The individual mandate is a major flaw. Many citizens do not have insurance because they cannot afford it, and many citizens can not afford to even go for a doctor visit. Now, these citizens will be fined; and you know what, I bet the fine gets garnished out of their paycheck or bank account. So, the citizen pays the fine and now has even less money to not be able to afford a doctor visit.

Spare me with the "there will be assistance for those who can't afford", because the fines will show up, and the assistance (except to certain protected special people) will not be forthcoming.

The individual mandate, among other things, makes the ACA bad law.

Saying that, Mckenna joining the ACA lawsuit hurt him. The fact that he jumped on the bandwagon of an existant suit (instead engendering his own suit) hurt him; the fact that all others involved in the suit were Republicans, hurt him; and the fact that the lawsuit was on constitutional grounds hurt him.

Mckenna wished to make a big deal over the constitutionality of the ACA, which was promoted by a Democratic president; yet Mckenna was fully silent about the constitutionality of the Patriot Act, Fisa, and related legislation (and executive orders),which were engendered and promoted by a Republican president. That left one thinking "why the double standard?", with the answer of course being
"extreme partisanship, and lack of any real respect for the Constitution, or Citizens". So, the ACA lawsuit did hurt Mckenna as it showed him to be an extreme partisan hypocrite.

jhande

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Chris Vance states in his response that "The least popular part of Obamacare is the individual mandate" which is true but it is also correct that the the most popular part is that it stops insurance companies being able to deny insurance based on a preexisting condition. Since these two parts are inextricably linked, the public's opinion doesn't make much sense and opinion pollsters can manipulate their questions to get whatever response they like.

WSDW

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

wsds, The publics opinion does make sense. The issue I have with the mandate is that forces citizens to pay insurance corporations. It is the equivalent of paying taxes to private for-profit corporations.

jhande

Posted Sat, Jan 5, 9:20 a.m. Inappropriate

jhande, No it does not make sense because the only other alternative to ensure coverage for those with preexisting conditions is socialized tax-funded health care and that is even more unpopular than the individual mandate.

WSDW

Posted Sat, Jan 5, 12:09 p.m. Inappropriate

First off a law could be passed to compel insurance corporations to accept pre-existing conditions without any individual mandate. The insurance corporations could simply be told that they will take pre-existing conditions, or they can have their corporate charter yanked.

Secondly, Universal single payer health care with no involvement of insurance corporations is not unpopular.

jhande

Posted Sat, Jan 5, 9:51 p.m. Inappropriate

jhandle,

A law could also be passed to require home insurance companies to allow you to insure your house after it has been hit by a falling tree or damaged by a broken water pipe. The result would be that nobody would buy insurance until after an incident and no company could afford to be in the home insurance business.

WSDW

Posted Sun, Jan 6, 7:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Insurance Corporations are not part of the government. They are corporations, and if they wish to operate in the United States then they may be compelled to accept citizens with pre-existing conditions. It is not a concern of the United States, whether an insurance corporation has a large profit or not. The individual mandate forces citizens to pay corporations under threat of law. That is wrong.

jhande

Posted Sun, Jan 6, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

The government requires people to buy private auto insurance and while you can choose not to own a car for many people that is a choice in name only.

WSDW

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

It's instructive to remember that five justices agreed with McKenna until Roberts decided he wanted to "grow in office." I think the claim that the lawsuit signaled the end for McKenna has a lot of traction amongst the Nordstrom Progressives of Seattle and nowhere else. McKenna did very well in the polls until the Seattle elite realized, rather late in the game, that one of "The Other" was about to be elected at the expense of someone, anyone from the correct coast of Puget Sound. If the Obamacare lawsuit had poisoned the well for McKenna, that would have been evident from the outset.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Jan 2, 8:33 p.m. Inappropriate

The GOP in Washington has to face the fact that the malodorous image of the national Republican party in 2012 as portrayed on Fox News, the many debates in the Presidential primaries, nasty races in other states and the Tea Partiers in Congress just doesn't play well in this state. We and the other West Edge states have a much different and more centrist political culture that the rest of the country. We have never bought in to politics driven by the undercurrent of bitterness and agrievement here.
McKenna stepped in a big one when he committed the state to the lawsuit against Obamacare then tried to temper his opposition as it became apparent that total repeal of the law was unpopular. The best guess was that overt opposition was a requirement to receive that massive infusion of campaign funds thrown into the race by the National Republican Governor's Association.
The fact that Republicans were not able find a candidate of stature to engage Maria Cantwell in a debate has to be an embarrassment.

Lytton

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Two de facto Republicans were just elected to the state senate as Democrats: that's how bad things are for the Republican brand here. In so many districts, you evidently have to run as a Democrat to even be considered seriously.

I know several people who had voted Republican for decades, from Eisenhower through G.W. Bush's first term, but who can no longer consider voting Republican. The reason why, invariably, is that they dare not give the ideological crazies running the Republican party that much power. So, while an individual Republican candidate might be fairly appealing, sensible, and reasonable (cf. Mike McGavik), traditional centrist Republican voters are increasingly reluctant to vote for such sensible candidates because doing so will put some kook in charge of things that really matter. I know so many Republicans who have switched to voting for mainly Democrats because of that whole dynamic.

This is only reinforced when the Republicans run a temperamental rightwing kook like Michael Baumgartner for senate. That choice says, "We are not a party that shares even most conservative Washingtonians' values."

McKenna should have run as a centrist and aligned himself with Washingtonians' actual values, which are pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and pro-Obamacare (people support the individual mandate in polling depending on how the question is asked - Washingtonians do not clearly the individual mandate). Instead, everyone who might have considered voting for McKenna said, No way - we can't risk giving the rightwing kooks so much influence in this state by having him in office and beholden to them.

This applies nationally as well: how can a reasonable Washingtonian conservative vote for a Republican senate candidate, even a centrist/moderate one like a Mike McGavik, if that might mean another Scalia is confirmed to the Supreme Court?

smacgry

Posted Sat, Jan 5, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

As the election neared, I found myself hearing the same thing from a number of friends regarding the McKenna-Inslee contest. Many found McKenna not only smart and thoughtful, but also steeped in the details of the state budget and statutes. Just the kind of person who would be able and willing to root out inefficiencies where they can be found and make hard and wise choices when necessary.

Except... why did the guy need to challenge Obamacare in court? It made no difference to the outcome. Never would have no matter the Supreme Court's decision. And it clearly alienated those moderate Democrats (like me) who believed strongly that status quo in health care was insane and that Obamacare was at the very least a step in the right direction.

I - and perhaps another 5% of Democrats? - would have voted for McKenna if we didn't fear that he would do exactly what other Republican Governors around the country are doing and threatening to do with Obamacare. That is... be obstructionist.

My one challenge, to what otherwise is an excellent article by Chris Vance, is that I think McKenna did have a chance to win the election. But Inslee was able to paint him effectively as an "Other Washington" Republican because of the Attorney General's ineffective and needlessly antagonizing health care challenge.

DBF

Posted Sun, Jan 6, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Well said. I am not sure how many people have to express this obvious concern before Chris Vance will stop repeating his inane statement which you can see above - 'I am convinced most people who say, "If only for the lawsuit..." are really Ds who would never have voted for McKenna.'

WSDW

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