Writings and observations

Targeting Tebelius

This was bound to happen soon enough: Washington State Republican Chair Diane Tebelius apparently is being targeted for ouster by defeated Republican state Senator Luke Esser.

Tebelius’ predecessor, Chris Vance, who resigned earlier this year, weathered a string of elections in which the state Republicans lost ground, but maybe the losses were close enough (the biggest, for governor in 2004, was almost immeasurably close) to fall not so directly on the doorstep of the state party. And Tebelius can reasonably point out that Washington Republicans held on to two hard-fought-over U.S. House seats, one of which Democrats came close to winning.

But the legislative losses were stunning, and so if the reports prove out and Esser emerges as the challenger, Washington Republicans will have the first of a series of choices to make. Were the losses of ’06 partly the result of party problems? Or did they have to do more with changes in the districts (especially in the Seattle suburbs) or with individual campaigns?

There may be another layer to this too. From Sound Politics: “it sounds like Esser has already lined up some heavy-duty support. Esser works for and is closely associated with Attorney General Rob McKenna, the top Republican elected official in the state. I would be surprised if Esser would be testing the waters this publicly without McKenna’s blessing. Also recall that McKenna and Dino Rossi both supported Tebelius’ challenger for party chair, Fredi Simpson, last year.” (Remember too that Telebius and Esser were among the candidates for the 2004 Republican nomination for the 8th district U.S. House seat won by Dave Reichert.)

This has to be caveated: Esser has not definitely said he’s running; and one or more other candidates could materialize. (Mark Hulst, a veteran leader of the Skagit County Republicans, who ran for state chair in 2005, seems to have some support should he have interest.)

There’s a possible indication here that the key suburban Republican leadership – whose top members have included McKenna, Esser and Rossi – may be positioning themselves for a central leadership role in the state Republican party, just at a time when the party experienced a massive defeat in just that area. Question, then: What does that translate to in terms of what direction the state Republican Party will or should take in the election ahead? A lot may ride on the answer.

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