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Gregoire at the launch

Jeff Kropf

Chris Gregoire campaigning at Vancouver/Stapilus

The lasting impression, watching Washington Governor Chris Gregoire working a crowd at Vancouver on day one of her first major campaign swing of the year, was that she’s gotten better at this than she was four years ago.

She should have, of course. Candidate Gregoire in 2004 was Christine, with the proper name and the litigator’s manner. Intelligence and competence came across clearly enough, but she could be a little hard to warm to. 2008’s candidate Chris seemed more relaxed and easy, at least as energetic (maybe more so) but less wired. The crowd at Vancouver, where we watched her in action, was a group of Democratic activists, officials and supporters and so primed to support her, but the interaction seemed warmer than would have been obligatory. Every so often the lawyer flashed an appearance, and some of her pushes for enthusiasm were a little forced. She’s still not a natural at this, but nonetheless a stronger candidate than last time around.

(We look forward to running a comparison between Republican Dino Rossi 2004 and 2008 – sorry, no name change in his case.)

The stump speech was basic – no very striking twists – but fully functional. Job one for an incumbent seeking re-election is to make the case that things are better than they were when the term began, or at least that the incumbent did the best they could. Gregoire addressed all that thoroughly. Unemployment was highest in the nation then, and much lower now, she argued; the job market is much improved; the state has won kudos for capable management; and so on. It’s a case Rossi will necessarily attack, of course, but Gregoire is not neglecting her role in making it. Over-modesty will not be her undoing in this campaign. (Go ahead and laugh; but any number of incumbents over the years have neglected to make the case for themselves only to wonder why the voters didn’t award them another term.)

Her references to Rossi – who she didn’t mention by name, only by implication – were brief but sharp: He is “critical and fearmongering to the state of Washington . . . who in tough times cuts education, cuts public safety . . . indecisive and puts up their finger and asks how the political winds blow . . .” The lines of attack seem clearly mapped out as well.

This was, as noted, an early stop on Gregoire’s bus tour around the state: “She’s traveling to 10 cities in four days on a biodiesel bus.” The Vancouver event was located at a firefighters union hall, and drew a substantial labor contingent, along with what looked like most of the Democratic candidates and legislators from the area. If four years ago large sectors of the state seemed a little underserved by the Gregoire campaign, the sense was that won’t be true this time around.

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