The Vance analysis II

Part II of the Chris Vance analysis on Crosscut of why things went so wrong for Washington Republicans, and what they should do about it now, is up. And like part I worth the read, though the argument has . . . issues . . . scattered throughout.

There are, however, useful points of interest throughout. (And as noted in our last post on Vance’s part I, other minority organizations – Idaho Democrats, say – might pay attention.)

bullet On the subject of a presidential standard bearer (pointing out, rightly, that the wrong one can drag down Republican candidates down-ballot): “it pains me to say this, but it is critical that the Republicans nominate someone next year who represents new leadership, someone who can redefine and reposition the party. Rudy Guiliani would clearly be such a nominee. Until recently, the same was certainly true of John McCain. Can Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson appeal to secular west coast moderates? I think that is a major question mark.”

There is, of course, a huge issue implicit in this: Can (or should?) the Republican Party nominate someone drastically different than the people it has happily supported up to now? What would that say about its principles? What kind of enthusiasm would such a partisan leader generate? And yet his point about the impact of such a nominee (a real successor to George W. Bush) on Washington Republicans is obviously realistic.

Beyond that, Vance warns, “If the Republican [presidential] nominee writes off Washington early, an uphill climb for state GOP candidates gets even steeper.”

bullet Vance seems ready to place a lot of chips on a Dino Rossi gubernatorial candidacy. There’s some sense to that. You can’t argue with his point that a Rossi governorship – that key win alone – instantly would return Republicans to the table as key players in Washington. And polling has shown Rossi running close to his 2004 photo-finish opponent, Democrat Chris Gregoire, in a prospective rematch.

We remain skeptical that Rossi would do as well the second time around. (We’ll get into that in more detail in a later post.) But Vance’s arguments suggest what may be a key line of Republican strategy for ’08: Throw everything into the Rossi pot. (Assuming he runs, of course; as we’re presuming for now he will.)

bullet Thirdly, he suggested, Republicans need to sheath their (internal) knives. Discussing the sharp fall in numbers of Republican state House members, Vance notes that in Washington, state legislative contest efforts are mostly lead by party caucus leaders. When a party has a strong leader, such as Democrats have now with Frank Chopp and Republicans had with Clyde Ballard, they can do well. But Since Ballard’s retirement from the House in 2002, Vance wrote, “his successors have had to spend more time watching their backs than they have working to win races. Since Ballard left, the House Republicans have gone from one leader to another. From Cathy McMorris to Richard DeBolt to Bruce Chandler and now back to DeBolt. One acrimonious leadership election after another. Constant turnover among top legislative and campaign committee staff. A caucus at war with itself is in no position to challenge the Chopp machine.”

He makes a sound point here, of course. Party organizations frought with internal strife – and this sort of thing happens a lot more than most people realize – are hobbled before they reach the starting gate.

bullet Finally, Vance has a few words on candidate recruitments, especially in the (pivotal) suburbs. Most importantly, they need to get serious and systematic about recruiting high-quality candidates. Rather than simply allowing GOP activists to become candidates in winnable races, DeBolt and company need to identify and meet with Republican-leaning suburban city council members and mayors, school board members, PTA presidents, and other civic leaders. Those are the folks who need to be persuaded to run for the Legislature.”

Speaking generally, that’s sound recruitment strategy for either party, and in many cases both parties often follow it.

The catch with all of this is the nagging sense that it still isn’t enough. The election of 2006 was more dramatic in Washington than most that had gone before, but the erosion of Republican votes had been going on for a decade, since the mid-90s. The suburbs weren’t lost to Republicans in 2006 alone; that had been going on, seat by seat, through this decade. There are deeper problems here than simply the organizational, and even a single spectacular win (such as Rossi’s) would be unlikely to resolve them all at once.

Bottom line: Good suggestions, as far as they go. Added thought: Take another step or two back, and look at the picture more broadly.

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