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Ellen Craswell

Ellen Craswell, who served 16 years in the Washington legislature and in 1996 ran for governor, got a chance to do something only but a few people do: She tested, on a statewide level, the proposition that her world view could win support statewide.

It didn’t. In that test, the 1996 gubernatorial campaign, she took 42% of the vote to 58% for Democrat Gary Locke. Ever since, her race has stood as a kind of benchmark, and reasonably, because Craswell was totally straight-up about who she was and what she thought. Her message was unalloyed conservatism growing out of conservative Christian beliefs. (Gay rights, in her view, were “special rights for sodomites.”) She did not try to soften or blur the message; it was what it was. And so were the voting results.

She was similarly clear and focused in the legislature, and her path there was hardly easier. Of her six general election results in legislative races, just two (in 1978 ad 1980) marked really strong wins; after that, she took 54% in 1984 (a strong Republican year), and 51.1% in 1988; she lost her last legislative race in 1992 (44.6%). Her message, finally, wasn’t one most voters wanted to sign up with.

But there was never any doubt what it was.

She has maintained a lower profile since, but in a 2005 Seattle Times Magazine interview she said of politics, “We [her husband was highly active too] enjoyed it while we were in it, but now it’s time for another generation to carry the torch. It’s another season in our lives.” She said she had no regrets; the interviewer described her as having “gracious serenity.”

She died Saturday at Poulsbo.

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