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The dynamics of what might work

The Joel Connelly column today on the political significance of advisors – name-checking the Bush Administration, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and her prospective challenger Dino Rossi – prompts a somewhat related train of thought.

The column focused on advisors to Gregoire and Rossi as they move toward open combat, and mentioned Lisa Grove, a pollster at Portland working for Gregoire, and who worked for Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski in his race last year.

The thought was that the recent Oregon experience of gubernatorial races might be instructive for Washingtonians.

In 2002, the governor’s office was open on the ballot and Kulongoski was opposed by Republican Kevin Mannix. Quite a few independent observers, and quite a few Republicans, thought that year the strongest Republican to run statewide (strongest seeking the governorship anyway) was attorney Ron Saxton. Saxton was running as a relative moderate, and the sense was that he could win the centrist vote better than Mannix, who was running as a conservative, period. Mannix won the Republican primary. In November he lost, narrowly, to Kulongoski, though he did do better than many had expected.

Roll up to 2006. Kulongoski is up for re-election, and both Saxton and Mannix are running again too. This time the Republican primary voters choose Saxton, taking the argument that he is more electable. Saxton runs, however, as (at least seemingly and perceptually) more conservative, which helps in the primary but apparently hurts in the general. Kulongoski wins this time by a bigger margin.

At this point, Oregon Republicans are having a rough time trying to figure out where to go next.

If you’re a Washington Republican, prepping for governor’s race next year, what conclusion do you draw from all that?

In 2006, the governor’s race between Gregoire and Rossi ended in a photo-finish. Rossi’s vote was better than many had expected beforehand, exceeding expectations. His mission, should he decide to accept it, is to better that performance in 2008. So how does he do that?

Does he tack more strongly to the middle? There’s little evidence that, in this new decade, that is working for Northwest Republicans.

Does he try to keep the base together by sticking with it philosophically? That doesn’t seem to accomplish much either, beyond the primary. But early indications, as Connelly’s column suggests, indicate that may be the route he’s taking.

Well, he has to do something (assuming he runs). And there’s not a lot of evidence right now to indicate what the winning strategy is.

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