Think Nationally, Vote Locally

by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ord is that incumbent Congresswoman Cathy McMorris has amassed such a war chest that she may well be unbeatable. Assuming that her huge popularity out there in the hinterlands hasn't waned, with all this new cash she has to spend, does any Democratic challenger stand a chance? The conventional wisdom says no.

On the other hand, the Democrats will likely run at her the most attractive and compelling candidate the party has fielded since Tom Foley lost in 1994: Peter Goldmark. Long courted by party activists who are tired of losing, Goldmark, after considerable reflection, tossed his hat in the ring.

Unlike Don Barbieri, who had little support outside of Spokane County, Goldmark is a life-long resident of Okanogan. He owns and operates an 8,900-acre ranch, has held responsible positions at the state level related to agriculture, and, oh yes, for good measure, he holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of California at Berkeley. He is experienced, knowledgeable, personable -- and very, very bright.

Which brings us back to McMorris. Bright? Substance? Argument? Political philosophy? Understanding? With a doff of the hat to the power of euphemism, even many of her supporters can come up with nothing stronger than: "Cathy is a people person." Process, to McMorris, serves as her political alpha and omega.

Two years ago she showed off her talent for manufacturing vacuity every time she opened her mouth. In answering questions on issues, Barbieri's responses were reasoned and informed. McMorris? Well, no matter the question, she just repackaged the same answer and reapplied it: "I can bring people together." If pressed to provide substance, she acted surprised, as if she were thinking: "Gee whiz, if I can bring people together, why should I need to understand all this overly complex stuff?"

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & t the time, I couldn't imagine Barbieri losing to a woman who could do no better than top one vacuous statement with another. Then, one day, maybe three weeks before the election, I drove our college-age son down to Walla Walla to look over Whitman College, and I found my answer. By the time we arrived, it was clear: Barbieri had no chance. None whatsoever. From the city line to Walla Walla, all we saw were McMorris signs. Outside of Spokane, Barbieri was invisible.

Goldmark has good reason to believe he can do much better than did Barbieri in the rural areas and small towns. (It would be impossible to do worse.) And he must be tempted to go directly after Congresswoman McMorris' most obvious vulnerability, her... ah, shall we say, aversion to substance? Then, if he can win in Spokane, maybe he can pull off an upset.

This campaign strategy builds from conventional wisdom. Right out of the playbook, it incorporates the famous Tip O'Neill rule: "All politics is local." Newt Gingrich, however, showed that sometimes the O'Neill rule doesn't apply. In 1994, he successfully nationalized the campaign with his phony, yet, oh-so-theatrical Contract With America. (You remember, the "Contract" -- that list of promises which George Nethercutt, like so many Republicans in the class of 1994, conveniently ignored once they were elected.) To win in 2006, Democrats must take a page out of the Gingrich playbook and nationalize the issues. Their candidates must run not just against Republican opponents but against the Republican regime.

Cathy McMorris must be made an issue not because she lacks substance, although substance she surely lacks. Nor should she be tossed because she is a rubber-stamp vote for the party, although she's that, too. She needs to go because her party should go. From top to bottom, America needs regime change. That must be the Democrats' cry. To pull this off, they will need to muster more focus and discipline than they have managed in many a year.

Goldmark must force McMorris to defend Bush's congressionally supported Iraq adventure, his wire tapping, his assault on a century of progressive taxation, his failure to deal with the on-rushing energy problem (he still can't bring himself to demand that Detroit build cars that get better gasoline mileage), his cozy relationship with big oil, the increasing amount of very troubling data that shows a rapidly shrinking middle class with a commensurate rise in the working poor, the fact that on his watch health costs have risen more than 70 percent, and Bush's loony and disingenuous "No Child Left Behind" fiasco. Goldmark must also force McMorris to defend the indefensible -- the avalanche of scandals that roll in with each morning's news. Along the way, she needs be made to address the matter of her "boss" Tom DeLay, whom she has supported almost without question. (Is it true that she plans a bumper sticker: "Free Tom, Vote for McMorris"? Just kidding, but you get my point.)

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & cMorris will retrench to the O'Neill strategy. When asked recently if she still supported the president and his Iraq adventure, instead of once again reiterating the officially prescribed yet thoroughly discredited line, "Stay the course," she said that now she's really more interested in talking about issues that affect Eastern Washington.

Wow! What a great idea! Who the hell cares about Iraq in Eastern Washington, anyway?

It falls to Goldmark to stand up and speak the truth. Who cares? "I do," he needs to say. "I care, and so should the representatives we send to Congress."

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