Red Scare

Washington State wants Obama. So why doesn't it love the rest of the Democratic ticket?

Red Scare

Something odd is happening in Washington State.

It's not that Barack Obama is running strong here, up by 10 points in a recent state poll. That makes sense. You have to go back to 1984 to find the last time this state picked a Republican (Ronald Reagan) for president. Plus, Obama's big win here in the February Democratic caucuses, and the record- shattering turnout he helped inspire, provided a clear early signal that Washington would be his to lose.

What's odd is that when you look past Obama, you find Democrats down the ticket who are running behind, even with, or just barely ahead of their Republican opponents.

Governor Christine Gregoire, who wisely jumped on the Obama bandwagon all the way back in February, doesn't seem to be getting much of a political dividend from that endorsement. In fact, it may be her opponent, Republican Dino Rossi, who is successfully riding Obama's "change" coattails. A television ad that Rossi launched in August was titled "Change." In it, the smiling candidate closed with the statement, "I'll work to start fixing some problems—for a change." His political dividend? An October 3 Rasmussen poll found Gregoire and Rossi exactly tied, at 48–48, in this year's rematch of their epic 2004 fight.

In Washington's other big rematch, the Eastside contest between incumbent Republican congressman Dave Reichert and his two-time Democratic challenger Darcy Burner, public opinion appears to be solidly favoring Reichert. An October 10 poll by Research 2000, conducted on behalf of the liberal blog Daily Kos, showed Reichert beating Burner by eight points—a far bigger margin than the three points he beat her by in 2006.

Further down the ballot, the state's Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna, seems poised to beat back a challenge by Democratic Pierce County executive John Ladenburg. Our Republican secretary of state, Sam Reed, seems almost certain to defeat his Democratic opponent, Jason Osgood, who's neither well funded nor widely known. And the race for commissioner of public lands is still tight between Eastern Washington Democrat Peter Goldmark and Republican incumbent Doug Sutherland, who was wounded earlier this year by a sexual-harassment imbroglio.

All of which raises the distinct possibility that on election night, Washington will be "blue" in only a very superficial sense. If the current political conditions hold, this state could give its 11 Electoral College votes to Obama while at the same time giving the governor's mansion to Rossi and retaining three top Republicans in statewide offices.

Democrats are loath to believe this will happen. "Bullshit," said former state Democratic Party chair Paul Berendt when presented with the scenario. But, in almost the same breath, Berendt admits, "This state is more conservative than people think."

There isn't yet a unified theory for why Washington Democrats are in this relatively unfavorable position during an election year that should heavily favor them. But you can bet one will emerge if Gregoire, Burner, Ladenburg, Osgood, and Goldmark all lose. In Cliffs-Notes form, the theory will probably go something like this: The pendulum in Washington State is swinging back to the right after a period of three years in which Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature and the governor's mansion.

For now, however, there are individual theories for why each race is the way it is, and different answers as to why the supposed Obama coattail effect—the promise that the extraordinary excitement he generates would boost liberal turnout and help down-ticket Democrats—isn't showing up so far in state polls.

For Governor Gregoire, the potential explanations are manifold. First, it could be that the polls showing a close Gregoire-Rossi race simply aren't picking up many of the new Obama voters—people who are more likely than most to be cell-phone users not reached by traditional polling. We won't know until Election Day whether that's a plausible explanation or just wishful thinking.

Second, Gregoire is running in a rematch that inevitably triggers memories of the incredibly close, repeatedly recounted, and endlessly litigated 2004 race that put her in the governor's seat. As a result, says local political consultant Christian Sinderman, both Gregoire and Rossi "began with 100 percent voter recognition and well-formed voter opinions against them."

That's a challenging hand to be dealt. "We've got to change people's minds," Aaron Toso, a spokesman for Gregoire's campaign, says. "A lot of people are still raw about 2004."

Third, Gregoire isn't connecting as well as she should be. Why? Part of it is the way she comes across—smart but severe, wise but not warm—and the adjectives associated with her style of governing. "She's substantive and wonkish, and those attributes don't always translate well into political sound bites," Sinderman says. Nor do they translate into a winning style of public persuasion.

Fourth, there's the economy. Just as Republicans at the federal level are being blamed for the state of the U.S. economy, endangering their electoral chances, so, too, is Gregoire being blamed for Washington State's economy. It doesn't make sense if you think about it seriously and for longer than a minute—as Gregoire repeatedly points out, the vast majority of the adverse effects on Washington's economy have resulted from President George Bush's policies, not hers (she didn't launch the costly war in Iraq or stand by while Wall Street was deregulated into disaster). But many of the undecided, still-persuadable-in-October voters don't tend to think long and seriously about such things. "They're really fighting over, like, 5 percent of the electorate," Berendt says of Gregoire and Rossi. "Which, by the way, are very ill-informed voters."

Taking advantage of this, Rossi has hammered away at the state's projected $3.2 billion budget shortfall and high unemployment rate. Gregoire, for her part, has only belatedly started talking about the "$4.5 billion Rossi deficit" that would develop if Rossi followed through on all his plans and campaign-trail promises.

Hence the emergence, suggested by polls and some anecdotal evidence, of the Obama-Rossi voter. Substantively, Obama and Rossi have very little in common, differing on everything from abortion to the minimum wage to global warming. Yet some swing voters' main criterion is apparently that a candidate be a guy with a great smile who talks about change, and both Obama and Rossi fit that description.

When Michelle Obama visited Seattle in July, she tried, unsuccessfully, to put a stop to this merging of the Obama and Rossi change messages. "Michelle Obama was the one who said, 'It's not change for change's sake,'" Toso recalls.

It didn't work. "I think one of the problems we're facing right now is a lot of people just don't know about the extreme views that Rossi has," Toso says. For example, Rossi opposed expanding the children's health- insurance program, supports rolling back same-sex partner benefits, and opposes medically accurate sex education in schools.

There's plenty to preoccupy voters who don't know this, though, which brings us to the fifth explanation for Gregoire's tight race: Right now, many voters may simply be too distracted by the presidential contest to hear her. Pollster Alex Evans, of EMC Research, believes that when voters do finally turn their full attention to the governor's race—likely in the last few days of the campaign—"they're going to come home to Gregoire."

For Burner, being heard over the clamor of the presidential race is also proving a challenge. She's running in Washington's 8th District, a fast-purpling "swing district" on the Eastside that hasn't yet swung once, despite repeated predictions that this, finally, will be the year its congressional seat falls into Democratic hands. Like Gregoire, Burner has tried, without much of a response in the polls, to hitch herself to the Obama phenomenon. In August, Burner was passing out a glossy campaign flyer featuring her smiling photo and the declaration: "Yes. We. Can."

She's also tried to position herself as more thoughtful than her opponent, Reichert, on the issue of the Iraq war, earlier this year releasing a "responsible plan" for ending the conflict. The plan was well-received nationally and endorsed by scores of other Democratic challengers around the country. But suddenly, issue number one is the economy—and where is Burner? In the same place as Reichert, at least when it comes to the $700 billion bailout Congress recently approved. "She would have voted no on this proposal," wrote Burner spokesman Sandeep Kaushik—on the day Reichert voted no on the bailout in D.C. "It did not do enough to deal with the underlying problems that created this mess. And it did not do enough to protect taxpayers."

All well and good, but not a sharp differentiation. If the focus stays on the economy, and the candidates stay in basic agreement on issues such as the bailout, then Burner's bet, essentially, is that a general tide of voter frustration with politicians in D.C. will float Reichert out of office. It was her bet in 2006, and it didn't work. So far the polls suggest it's not working this time, either.

As for Goldmark, his problem in the race for the lands commissioner post is money. Sinderman, who is helping to direct Goldmark's campaign, pointed out that it recently took his candidate two months to raise $100,000. In contrast, timber giant Weyerhauser "just wrote that in a check" to a political action committee designed to help his opponent, Sutherland, Sinderman said. A recently unearthed 2005 sexual-harassment charge against Sutherland by a female employee will certainly help Goldmark. But, says Sinderman, "Peter will be outspent." Same for Osgood, the Democrat mounting a long-shot challenge to Republican secretary of state Sam Reed. And in the attorney general's race, Republican incumbent McKenna was recently polling 13 points ahead of challenger Ladenburg.

Sure, it's likely that on November 5 Democrats will still have majorities in both houses of the state legislature in Olympia. But when it comes to races for statewide office, the playing field is looking surprisingly tough. So what's the silver bullet for Washington State Democrats in a year when they shouldn't really need one? Clearly, it's not just that success for Obama will lift all Democratic boats—at least not yet.

In fact, perhaps the best thing Obama could do for down-ticket Washington State Democrats right now is nothing: hold steady, hold on to his big lead over John McCain, and let his victory in the presidential race become such a foregone conclusion that people here can focus on something else between now and November 4.

Then, maybe, voters here will have time to delve into the issues at play in contests like the governor's race. That's one theory, anyway. "If they're voting on those issues, they're going to vote for Governor Gregoire," said Toso.

Hope—it's not just for Barack Obama. recommended


Comments (31) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Democrats, don't sit and expect your party to win (which might be what happened in the last presidential vote). We must act like we are behind and vote, and democratic across the board. Do it people!
Posted by Let's do it on October 15, 2008 at 9:00 PM · Report this
I lean towards almost everything Democratic. However, Gregoire just doesn't seem like a great leader. She hasn't done anything about transportation issues in 4 years (Viaduct!!!!), looked terrible during the Sonics debacle, and her ads just seem to make a bunch of empty promises.

I think this is why Rossi actually seems like the lesser of two evils to a lot of people. Even some Democrats.

I wish there was a better choice!
Posted by mo on October 16, 2008 at 11:11 AM · Report this
Eli, Go out and meet a Republican consultant. There are a few who could have given you insight on this. Christian is great, and seems like a really bright guy, but it would have been nice to hear what the other side had to say about what's going on.
Posted by IMFletch on October 16, 2008 at 11:43 AM · Report this
I'm an Obama / Gregoire / Goldman / Reed / McKenna voter. I would only vote a straight ticket if each candidate on that ticket earned my vote.

I'm not thrilled with Gregoire - she just hasn't been an effective leader and hasn't accomplished much of anything that is important to me - but I am voting against Rossi. Better to have an ineffective leader than an effective leader who enacts policies against my interests.

I don't care about the CPL position, so I'm falling back on my "vote out the incumbant" philosophy. Besides, Sutherland seems prone to corruption to me.

Osgood is a freakin nutcase, and Sam Reed hasn't been terrible at his job. He doesn't really have a lot of decision-making power anyhow, most of it is in the hands of the law.

McKenna is awesome -- when he speaks on KUOW's Weekday I'm always pleased by how rational and fair he is. He is also very much bound by law. I don't want a partisan AG, and he has very much demonstrated that he is not partisan, unlike Ladenburg.
Posted by My votes ($.02) on October 16, 2008 at 12:14 PM · Report this
I decided a long long time ago I would never vote for a Republican even if the Democrat was a turnip. The last eight years have been a powerful reinforcement of that decision.
Posted by ratcityreprobate on October 16, 2008 at 12:27 PM · Report this
Just underscores how terrible Chris "Don't Call me Christine" Gregoire is at campaigning. 2004 should not have been a virtual tie, and she's done nothing to highlight real accomplishments since then. Rossi is running a great campaign, hiding his true real estate salesman sleazeball self behind a smiling family man. I won't vote for him, but would not be surprised in the least if he won. Gregoire is just hoping for Obama coattails to carry her.
Burner is even less qualified than Palin - both are joke candidates. (Darcy: ever hear of the state legislature or even city council? Pick up some chops there before you try to play with the adults.)
Posted by SirVic on October 16, 2008 at 2:33 PM · Report this
Darchy Burner is a re tread - won't work second time around. Running against George Bush has proven to be a blah strategy - running on the side to a depression would have been smarter.

Poor candidate the first time, aging to years has not helped the vintage.

Goldy needs to stick to blogging.

Posted by Jan on October 16, 2008 at 4:38 PM · Report this
I'm a gay guy, independent and vote for the person, not the party. I'll vote for Obama...not my first choice.. Hillary was. I don't know who I will pick for Gov....I think they are both poor choices.

And sorry Democrats....you've really given me no reason why i should not vote to re-elect Sam Reed and Rob McKenna. Both have done an excellent job so far. I'm not going to vote for any one just based on party affiliation.
Posted by hal on October 16, 2008 at 6:33 PM · Report this
I don't believe that the guy who is hiding the fact that he is Republican is going to win in this state. The Republican brand is just too damaged, too closely tied to the record of George W. Bush.

If Gregoire really wants to hit Rossi hard, put up a commercial that just says over and over that Rossi is Republican. It can't be said enough.
Posted by montex on October 16, 2008 at 9:34 PM · Report this
Hey NWGayGuy who posted three times in a row...really? You really think that there isn't going to be a difference between Rossi and Gregoire? Wait and see what happens when the religious right nutcases have open and preferred access to the highest official in the state. Watch Rossi starve funds from the population centers of Western WA as payback to the Eastside. Watch any progressive regulation get rolled back. Rossi is worse than Bush, just local.
Posted by spg on October 17, 2008 at 5:13 PM · Report this
the best thing voters can hope for is a split of the executive and legislative branches with each party - thereby ensuring nothing get done. Otherwise if one party dominates both branches - they spend like drunken soldiers. When we go through the impending 21st century depression - this will all make sense to y'all.

Read Ravi Battra's books.

Posted by ShadyAchmed on October 17, 2008 at 8:51 PM · Report this
I'll give mine to lizard-face rather than slick used car salesman.
Posted by Poopooface on October 17, 2008 at 11:37 PM · Report this

PRESIDENT: Obama- this guy is pretty rational and far smarter than most of us, a little too commie sometimes but he should work.

WA Governer: Gregorie- She's inefficent but this state still has nice parks, roads, etc, taxes on gas is high, but overall not too shitty, and much less sleazy than Rossi who has many Special Interests.

Sam Reed and Rob Mckenna for the others they both are capable individuals who do there job.

Burner or Reichart, fuck this hard, Reichart seems like a small town ole' boy sherrif you would hate to ever get pulled over by and Burner is just retarded but not filled with corruption.
Posted by Election on October 18, 2008 at 4:19 AM · Report this
I'm voting for Obama and Rossi (and a few other republicans)
Posted by comradeblk on October 18, 2008 at 8:18 AM · Report this
I'm one of those who will vote Obama for President but Rossi for Governor.

It is completely disingenuous to say that Washington State's economic troubles aren't a result of Gregoires poor leadership. She is the one who instituted the largest spending increase in state history.

She's also been completely ineffective on the Viaduct issue. The state owns the road. The state was providing the money. If she had one ounce of courage she would have stood up and told Greg Nickels to go to hell, torn down the viaduct and gone with a surface option which most of the voters support, but few of the special interests do.

And she really chapped my hide when she announced she was directing the State Patrol to start random checkpoints on State roads. I guess the 4th Amendment doesn't mean much to her.

And how can anybody possibly make an argument against Sam Reed? He's got 100% integrity, is one of the smartest folks in Olympia leadership and has repeatedly shown the Citizens come first. It takes me longer to decide what to make for dinner than it does to affirm my support for Sam Reed.
Posted by David on October 18, 2008 at 9:43 AM · Report this
given that bush's economic policies have hurt the nation, but you cant blam all of states problems on him. She knew we where headed into a short fall... she new times where getting tougher...and yet she still incresed spending ...and then sadly tried to denie it. She said we had a surplus? She is living in lala land. Rossi will make cuts...and yes cuts hurt, but we need it done.
Posted by garyk on October 18, 2008 at 4:52 PM · Report this
There is no such thing as Left-wing whackos.
The Left is always correct.
The Left NEVER lies.
The Left is benevolent, caring, all-powerful, and righteous.
Democratic candidates are always law-abiding angels.
Democrats are always 100% ethical, honest, and prudent.
There has never been a bad Democrat, ever.

And if you belive all that, you, too, have a job waiting for you at The Stranger.
Posted by Irony 1 on October 19, 2008 at 7:08 AM · Report this
I think that votes should be earned, not just given because of the Party a candidate stands behind. My votes are split and it is very difficult to vote democrat across the board when one is spending money like it grows on trees and another thinks that working at Microsoft gives a person enough experience to represent so many different people. It doesn't.
Posted by J on October 19, 2008 at 10:52 AM · Report this
There was a significant event, the new site with absolutely free
video adult avi format www.respect-mastrubatsiya.org
Posted by suppress riaig on October 19, 2008 at 10:53 AM · Report this
yea, i'm not really certain what the fascination is with Christian Sinderman. Call a few other people, lots of smart people in Seattle.
Posted by seattledad on October 19, 2008 at 11:57 AM · Report this
why? in a word, Zionism...

If we had honest and objective news media instead of a bunch of bolshevick likudnik assholes spewing crapola propaganda it would be much simpler.

we need better media...media consolidation has made America dumb as rocks, as it has made it much easier for the evil few to control the opinions of the unwashed masses..

Posted by Shootingsparks on October 19, 2008 at 11:31 PM · Report this
oh yea, and there's not a snowballs chance in hell i would vote for that Zio-con gangster Rossi...that guy is a greasy pile of criminal shit
Posted by Shootingsparks on October 19, 2008 at 11:35 PM · Report this
The Clinton Administration got us into this mess at the end of his term. They're the ones that said we should help people that at the time couldn't afford a down payment get homes thinking that companies wouldn't be greedy and take advantage of the situation. I'm not saying that the war hasn't taken its financial toll on the economy but this housing mess was started by democrats. As for Gregoire, she just needs to go, as people want change in the White House so do I in Olympia, its only the insane that think if they do the same thing over and over you'll get a different result.
Posted by Bothell Matt on October 20, 2008 at 6:48 PM · Report this
I posted this in the endorsement thread, but I'll mention it here too:

Posted by lisa g. on October 20, 2008 at 7:25 PM · Report this
Rossi will win, and WA will be stronger for it. Checks and Balances are important. If the Clinton-Dems CRA expansion or the Bush-Repubs war are any indications, ANY power left unchecked leads to economic and political disaster. Christine promised a stem cell center, traffic fixes, and a fair and open government. Instead all we got was Indian Casinos getting tax-free sales, a resulting budget out of control, NO stem cell center, and in "interesting" restriction on public card rooms and casinos that tribal casinos don't have to stick to. Gregoire is simply too mired in special interests (including teacher's unions instead of focusing on the CHILDREN) to get my vote. My ballet will seem to be all over the map politically, but it'l all have the same theme... responsible budgeting and fairness.
Posted by Steve in Seattle on October 20, 2008 at 8:29 PM · Report this
yep, the reds are on the rise... look out were voting strong this time and Washington will be REPUBLICAN.
I've never agreed with Gregoire and what she stands for is lame. We need a man in charge to make command decisions that affect us in the real world.
Vote Dino Rossi

Posted by Seattle Resident on October 21, 2008 at 10:27 AM · Report this
wtf is wrong with "Steve in Seattle" and "Bothell Matt"? The Dems, Clinton, and the CRA had jackshit to do with the economic crisis. For one, the CRA only covers banks and thrifts, not the mortgage brokers who issued 80% of the subprime loans. For another, the loans issued to be compliant with the CRA actually perform quite well. Pull your heads out of your ass and get edumacated. Dumb fucks.
Posted by broken on October 21, 2008 at 7:03 PM · Report this
Good Christians Prioritize;
If you agree with the thoughts conveyed in these messages forward them to as many people and addresses as you can and encourage every contact to do the same. You never know your effort may make a difference in this presidential election!
Good Christians Prioritize;
All voters participating in the 2008 presidential election regardless of any other reason or issue will pronounce or renounce religious convictions. Every vote cast in this 2008 election will enable and promote abortion or it will be a vote to rescue the unborn from all distress. That is an undeniable fact and the plain simple truth. Most Christians identify them self with acts of rescue or protection of the defenseless and helpless from all distress. I have heard and seen Barack Obama and others proclaiming they are Christians. Barack Obama and others should know Christians will never be found with abortion blood on their hands.
I personally don’t know any Christian who hopes to enable or promote abortion as Barack Obama, and his supporters do. As far as I am concerned Barack Obama and other abortion promoters may be two-faced heathens or idiots and fools but no Christian will ever knowingly condone, support, or enable any abomiNation like abortion (America doesn’t want any stinking communist “ObamaNation”). The only things Obama will ever do militarily are surrender or get his self captured. Good luck finding any one to take an order from Commandeer and Chef Barack Obama. God Bless and save the United States of America.
“God Bless and Save Us all”

America and Americans deserve President John McCain! Today, right now, in this moment of all our lives, at this important pivotal juncture in American history, Americans finally have the golden opportunity of a lifetime. This is America’s one best chance to mandate and insure tangibility in truth, honesty, integrity, and moral conduct of our political representatives. Finally at long last a giant golden parachute built in America by Americans for Americans. Finally at long last in arms reach a worthy historical opportunity to bless our descendents with.
American citizen participants of the 2008 presidential election will have a rare historical opportunity to craft and achieve by their vote a consensus to prosecute prevalent corrupt conduct of political representatives. John McCain is the first and the only opportunity Americans have ever had to change the entrenched deviant political nature of Washington politics. John McCain with Governor Sarah Palin is an admirable and terrific means for saving America the cost of standard corruption in Washington. John McCain with Governor Sarah Palin will end conniving corrupt career politicians enriching them self with American prosperity and protection. America and Americans not only owe John McCain for services rendered, America and Americans have earned and deserve President John McCain.
I honestly believe as President John McCain with Vice President Sarah Palin will provide Americans what has been sorely needed for more than 40 years. John McCain has always been America’s only chance to defeat political corruption in Washington.
Now is the time for American’s to restore the great dream that is America. Vote to elect President John McCain and Vice President Sarah Palin. God Bless and save the United States of America.
“God Bless and Save Us all”

Democrat U.S. Representative John Murtha’s belligerent unmitigated gall accusing decent American voters of being too racist to support Obama is his self guilty of punishable abusive racism. It is an outrage to be maliciously maligned a racist by any despicable racist. U.S. Representative John Murtha and his democrat party’s true socialist political philosophy, their covert disdain for democracy and disregard for governing authority has until now remained deniable. U.S. Representative John Murtha’s reckless racist attacks clearly demonstrate his disdain for all Americans, American democracy, his true racist nature and clearly reveal the democrat party’s undeniable socialist sociopolitical identity. U.S. Representative John Murtha’s reckless racist attacks explain the democrat party’s Machiavellian conduct demonstrated by the Obama campaigned for the presidency. I think Americans have heard, seen, and had, enough deceitful iniquitous Machiavellian conduct to prosecute Murtha and his socialist party. There is no place for racism or communism of any kind in America. God Bless and save the United States of America. “God Bless and Save Us all”

Socialism vs. Capitalism: Which is the Moral System?
Morality is choice behavior;
Stinking communist “ObamaNation” that is no argument or choice! That is pure diluted delusional artificial philosophy.

Political Party Plank:
Gun control (i.e. gun confiscation) is a solid plank in the Democrat Party Platform. That means no matter what you think you have heard or what they promise, they will support every effort to confiscate every domestic gun. That is the plain simple truth.
God Bless and save the United States of America.
“God Bless and Save Us all”
Posted by Writeon on October 26, 2008 at 10:38 AM · Report this
already voted by overseas ballot. hate gregoire but voted democrat anyway. voted sam reed as usual. i think demos dont quite get the fact they promised to end the war in iraq 2 years ago and did absolutely nothing, and more recently caved in on the so-called "bail-out." i hope pelosi gets kicked out this time in california. what a liar.
Posted by fisa idiots need the boot on October 28, 2008 at 6:41 PM · Report this
Democraps are commies...
Posted by marco51 on November 1, 2008 at 9:48 AM · Report this
31 Comment Pulled

Add a comment