POST-ELECTION ANALYSIS, from The Inlander's political column, Trail Mix:
If you watched the Washington state election results as posted to the Secretary of State’s website Tuesday night, it washed over you like a big, blue wave. Early on, during the 8 o’clock hour, several Eastern Washington counties’ results were posted, along with a few southwestern counties. Rob McKenna was smoking; Jay Inslee had to be sweating. But closer to 9 pm, King County’s results hit the web and bam! — the tables were turned. McKenna’s earlier lead turned into a 50,000-vote deficit. King County gave Inslee a 140,000-vote edge.
It was a pretty stark reminder that for all the couty-by-county campaigning, the road to Olympia still runs through King County. And in a twist that can’t be making Republicans happy, that road is bluer than ever.
Rob McKenna was a very good candidate, with the credentials and ideas to run the state. He could have been the one to end the long run of Dems in the governor’s mansion — a streak that goes back to the 1980s now. He could have hired Republicans to state jobs and nurtured a new GOP that reflected Washington’s new realities. But that’s not going to happen, which means the state has essentially no statewide Republican office holders. How do you build a party without leaders? (It’s worth pointing out that our own Cathy McMorris Rodgers is arguably the most important Republican in the state now.)
What happened? A friend of mine who is involved in West Side politics says it’s all about the East Side — which, over there means Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond, not Spokane. A decade ago, the land across Lake Washington was Republican country, where Dino Rossi came lived and the money came from to fund GOP campaigns. Today, in just a few years’ time, the East Side has turned blue. Why? Social issues. Even if these were newly minted millionaires, ala Microsoft and Amazon, they were , in spirit, old-school Republicans of the Dan Evans vein — conservative on fiscal issues, but unconcerned about most hot-button social issues.
So the short analysis is that the Tea Party turned off the East Side, and now the state GOP is lost in the wilderness. (Which is why the TV ad of McKenna at that Tea Party rally is perhaps the race’s most emblematic image.)
If you’re an ambitious, up-and-coming Republican wanting to pursue a political career, you might want to consider moving to Coeur d’Alene. Or, if you’re OK with some hard work and a couple losing cycles, you can join the rest of the ones left behind and start to figure out how to meet Washington voters — really, King County voters — on their own terms.
If there’s any solace to take, it’s that Washington is going to be a very difficult state to govern over the next four years. It’s a minefield of bad choices and painful cuts. Expect Jay Inslee to struggle. But it’s going to take some time to get another Rob McKenna cued up.