If history is any guide, the stars may be lining up for the rancher from Okanogan country -- but only if Goldmark pays attention to what happened these past 12 years.
Lesson One of Eastern Washington politics is that voters here stand by their member of Congress. Republican Walt Horan served 22 years, and Foley served 30. George Nethercutt Jr. probably could have served for the rest of his life if he hadn't given up his seat to challenge Patty Murray for her Senate seat in 2004. That makes the first run for reelection even more crucial here -- if Cathy McMorris wins again, she'll be well on her way to enshrinement.
Lesson Two is that when Eastern Washington changes horses, it's only after some kind of tectonic political shift. Horan came into office with a lot of other new recruits as World War II got underway; Foley won in the Democrat landslide of 1964, when the country rallied around LBJ's Great Society; and Nethercutt was the sharp end of the Republican Revolution of 1994, a movement still in power. So history tells us it's less about the candidate than it is about what's happening in the nation.
There are a lot of smaller lessons, too, so as a refresher, here's a quick trip down memory lane:
1942: Hurrah for Horan & r & Born in a cabin on the banks of the Columbia River in 1898, the former apple grower from Wenatchee became a popular politician by paying attention to his constituents. "You can accomplish more in Washington," he once said, "by making friends than by making headlines."
LESSON: This guy would never get elected in 2006. Today, it's all about making the right kind of headlines.
1964: Fightin' Tom Foley & r & Famously filing for office 15 minutes before the deadline, Foley was swept into office in the 1964 landslide. One of the more conservative Democrats around, Foley, like Horan, attended to his constituents' needs, especially out in farm country. And as he rose through the ranks, his ability to deliver the goods increased.
LESSON: Sometimes you can be in the right place at the right time, so just ride the wave. And once you get in, take care of business.
1994: Nethercutt by a Nose & r & When the chairman of the local Republican Party wasn't happy with the same old faces lining up to get whupped by Foley, that chairman volunteered to run. Thus the remarkable political career of George Nethercutt was launched. He picked the right moment, and jumped on all the right bandwagons, from guns to term limits. But he never said so much as to alienate anyone who liked him and his dog (who made key appearances in his TV ads). Meanwhile, Foley stumbled as he had to defend the unpopular Bill and Hillary Clinton administration.
LESSON: When you can see you're in the right place at the right time, don't say or do anything to screw it up. (George W. Bush certainly followed this script in 2000.) And if possible, get Charlton Heston to do TV ads for you.
1996: Judy Olson & r & In Nethercutt's first defense of his seat, a wheat farmer from Garfield moved to the head of the pack. Olson tried to out-conservative him, keeping mum on whether she even voted for Clinton in 1992. She also tried to paint Nethercutt as anti-agriculture. Nethercutt, with his rich new friends, had little trouble.
LESSON: Trying to appear conservative is a tried-and-true strategy, as even Foley used it, but the Republican Revolution was still in full swing.
1998: Brad Lyons & r & "It costs too much to get your message out," Lyons told us. "If you can't raise money, you're finished. If you have a half-million dollars to put into the last two weeks, what chance does a challenger have?" Answer (in his case, anyway): None.
LESSON: You need a lot of money to compete with an entrenched member of Congress. They get reelected nearly all the time.
2000: Tom Keefe & r & This was to be the year: Nethercutt's promise to limit his own term by serving only six years was expired. It was up to an enterprising opponent to point out his hypocrisy. To put some icing on the cake, Keefe offered up the best-rounded, most combative campaign yet, with special attention paid to drug costs to seniors and eliminating the national debt. (Hey, cute idea!) But Keefe had just moved into the district, and a nervous Nethercutt exploited the fact, with one mailing that had a cartoon of Keefe actually vomiting garbage.
LESSON: If they feel threatened, the Republicans will take off the gloves. And despite all the term-limit baggage, the surprising popularity of George W. Bush at the top of the ballot saved Nethercutt.
2002: Bart Haggin & r & Hats off to Bart Haggin for jumping into the race when nobody else seemed up for the punishment. Although he was clearly too green to play throughout the 5th District, he settled on an outsider theme: "I have no strings attached to me." It was also the first election after the state Legislature redistricted the 5th, adding in even more conservative territory to a district already brutal on Democrats.
LESSON: Card-carrying liberals are nice people, but the 5th District isn't their natural habitat.
2004: Cathy McMorris v. Don Barbieri & r & Finally, demoralized Democrats thought, Nethercutt was stepping aside to run for Senate. And local businessman Don Barbieri was running. It all added up to ... another drubbing. Perhaps Barbieri's urban roots failed to inspire rural voters, but he lost in Spokane County, too. More likely, Bush's finger on the terror alert's "fuschia" setting held things together for the Republicans for one more election.
LESSON: John Kerry had no coattails to ride in Eastern Washington, and Barbieri was too wonky for his own good. McMorris's vague charm was perfect.
2006: Peter Goldmark & r & It's a safe bet to predict that McMorris will rely, again, on her natural likeability and hope everybody has forgotten all about her notorious patron Tom DeLay.
Goldmark, meanwhile, seems to have been molded from the lessons of the past 12 years: He's conservative, he plans to play the agriculture issue for all it's worth and he's got rural roots that should endear him to all parts of the 5th District. But he may not even need to convince people to change horses. If by November the country continues to be fed up with $3-a-gallon gas, war without plan in Iraq and an asleep-at-the-wheel Congress, he may just have to ride the wave, like Nethercutt and Foley before him.
Then again, there's nothing like a massive media buy to keep the voters in line, and Goldmark is the clear underdog when it comes to comparing bank accounts with McMorris.
If Goldmark does pull off the upset, however, the Republicans will have only themselves to blame. Prior to the 2002 redistricting, when negotiations between the parties added more "safe" conservative territory into the 5th District, Peter Goldmark couldn't have even run for the seat. His home near Omak wasn't even in the 5th District then; he got written in.