The Politics Blog

Is GOP taking steps further to the right on the Pacific Coast?

OlympianAugust 13, 2013 

Some of the emerging candidates for chairman of Washington State Republican Party are saying the GOP keeps losing elections because candidates aren’t conservative enough. Sure Rob McKenna lost the governor’s race while trying to run as a moderate. But social-moderate Kim Wyman did win the secretary of state’s race last fall, becoming the lone Republican to win a statewide elected office in Washington, Oregon or California.

The election – and de facto referendum on the Washington GOP’s direction – comes as Oregon’s divided Republicans voted last weekend to elect a clear climate-change skeptic. The Oregonian reported on Art Robinson’s 55-to-52 win over Bill Currier, the party’s vice chair. Robinson was described in one news story as “an outspoken skeptic of human-caused global warming” who lost two runs against U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio in 2010 and 2012.

Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times has the story on the potentially divided Washington GOP that is picking a successor to ex-chairman Kirby Wilbur on Saturday, Aug. 24, in Spokane. How it will go is far from clear – and five names have surfaced to replace Wilbur, a conservative by most measures.

Among the five hopefuls to replace Wilbur is acting party leader Luanne Van Werven, who is a former Whatcom County GOP chair with roots in the conservative movement. She stepped up from state vice chair when Wilbur left.

Also in the hunt, according to Brunner, are former KIRO-TV news anchor Susan Hutchison who masked her Republican affinity in her losing run for King County executive in 2009 against Democrat and winner Dow Constantine; plus Jim Walsh, who is a Republican state committeeman from Grays Harbor County; Christian Berrigan, who is operations director for Clark County Republicans; and Lloyd Becker, described as a precinct-committee officer from Benton County.

The Columbian’s Stevie Matthieu recently described Berrigan as someone who was part of “a movement last summer to include more conservative voices in the Clark County Republican Party. He encouraged Republicans who supported Ron PaulNewt Gingrich or Rick Santorum in the presidential primaries to join forces and run for precinct committee officer position(s) … The new PCOs then helped elect new leadership within the county’s Republican Party, ousting leaders that were less philosophically conservative.’’

Similar shifts happened in Thurston County.

Who replaces Wilbur is up to 117 members of the state party’s executive committee. Wilbur was a fairly popular figure who headed off a reelection challenge in January by two Republicans who were further to the right than him  The former populist talk-radio host then left with little warning last month for what Wilbur described as a new job paying “more than twice my current salary” in Washington, D.C.

Here is how Brunner described the potential divide:

While much of their campaigning is centered on which candidate is best qualified to raise money and organize grass-roots volunteers, there is also talk about the philosophical direction of the party. Some suggested the GOP message has grown muddled by a desire to appeal to the political center.

“We have gone the moderate Republican route, and I would just like to say, how has that worked out for us? Not very well,” Van Werven told attendees at a Republican gathering in Ellensburg over the weekend.

The GOP would fare better with candidates like Dino Rossi, “who was conservative yet still had appeal across party lines,” she said. “Rob McKenna? Great guy, but I’m sorry, over here on the east side he just couldn’t pull in the votes like he should.” …

In an interview, Van Werven said the key to growing the Republican Party “is reaching out to voters all over the state, convincing them that we have the right ideas and that the Republican Party principles really are the Northwest’s homegrown values.”

On the other side, Brunner paraphrased Hutchison as saying can’t be “Republicans can’t afford to be ideologically picky when it comes to recruiting candidates,” and she noted the party must build a farm team for candidates running for statewide office. [NOTE: The words in quotes are Brunner's paraphrase, not what Hutchison said.]

Once again, stay tuned.

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