Have Republicans Gone Crazy—or Simply ‘Given Up?’

Have local Republicans gone crazy? That’s the question that arises from the current contest to take over the state GOP. As The Seattle Times reported last week, a number of the candidates vying to become chair are arguing that Republicans have been losing races in this state because they aren’t conservative enough.

Now, while there’s certainly a deep, conservative strain that runs through Washington, let’s remember that the state overall is one of the most liberal in the country. Even back in the ‘50s, as the director of the Museum of History and Industry recently informed me, the state was known as the “Soviet of Washington.”

The GOP chair contenders might think that a turn to the right will get what conservatives there are fired up—and voting. But even if every single conservative in the state mailed off a ballot, here’s how former party chair Chris Vance calculates the math: “To have any chance of winning statewide, a Republican has to get 40 percent of the vote in King County.” The county, of course, is the state’s liberal base.

Why, then, would such a wild notion shape the race to lead the state’s Republican party? Vance has some other interesting observations. In years past, he says, Washington’s most prominent Republicans got involved in the race. A onetime legislator and King County council member, he recalls that he was recruited to run for chair by former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton.

This year, he’s not seeing such involvement. “Where is the Congressional delegation?” he asks. “Where is the leadership in Olympia?”

His suspicion: Credible Republican leaders have “given up.” They’ve simply chalked too may losses. “We have not won a U.S. Senate or governor’s race since 1994 and the only statewide office we now hold is secretary of state,” he bemoans.

A particular shock to many conservatives was the loss of onetime Republican golden boy Rob McKenna in the last gubernatorial campaign. McKenna, previously the state’s attorney general, was the rare Republican who could win statewide and early polls had put him ahead.

Vance contends that bright, ambitious Republicans have gotten the message and are now doing other things besides diving into statewide politics.

And so you have the crazy race for the GOP chair, in which the most well known candidate is Susan Hutchison, a former newscaster with little political experience (but, to her credit, not one of those pushing for a shift rightward).

“We have gone the moderate Republican route, and I would just like to say, how has that worked out for us?” another candidate and the current interim party chair, Luanne Van Werven asked at a GOP gathering the weekend before last, according to the Times.

Van Werven--who identifies herself on Twitter as “wife, mother, grandma, Christian conservate, authentic Republican”-- might want to remember that the party has also gone the extremist route. Think Ellen Craswell, another Christian conservative who called gay rights “special rights for sodomites,” and whom Republicans inexplicably allowed to be their candidate for governor in 1996.

How’d that work out? She lost in a landslide.

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