The state Democratic Party is electing its leadership tomorrow in Olympia, just one week after Washington Republicans replaced their chairman with a tea-party activist.
But Democrats' Dwight Pelz does not appear to be in any danger of losing his job. He watched as the GOP captured the open 3rd Congressional District formerly held by a Democrat in 2010, but Democrats otherwise preserved their control of Washington's two U.S. Senate seats and both chambers of the state Legislature.
Pelz said he thinks he'll beat challenger Natalie McClendon, who is chair of the Whatcom County Democrats, and Thurston County's Democratic Party leaders agree.
"The people I know are all happy with how Dwight’s done his job and they are planning to support him," Thurston Democratic chairman Stew Henderson said. "I haven't heard of a big campaign against him."
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Thurston committeeman Roger Erskine and committee-woman Elizabeth Shepard are among those voting on the leadership, and both support Pelz.
"Dwight is in no trouble with regard to the challenge by Natalie," Shepard said. "Dwight knows the hill here and ropes nationally."
"I will be voting to re-elect Dwight Pelz. I do not believe the challenger from Whatcom County has much support," said Erskine.
But McClendon, a relative newcomer, said she is in to win.
"It is more than a symbolic gesture on my part certainly," McClendon said this week. "I've gotten a lot of support from people. I've been calling around to central committee members. I'm not a veteran strong-arm campaigner. People have asked, what's your vote count? I don't know."
She said her platform is for the state party "to step it up and do more with the resources that we have, working to build the capacity of our local parties in particular." Pelz did not sound alarmed in the least, despite facing a challenge in 2009 that he won by a closer-than-expected 98-64 vote over Mark Hintz of Snohomish County.
"It's a democracy and people are free to run. We believe in elections in the Democratic Party," Pelz said this week. "I always want to ask every member of the central committee for their vote. So I've made about 150 phone calls. It looks positive right now."
McClendon said "the political landscape has changed completely in those two years” since the last vote and that "keeping business as usual is not a viable option for us."
"My leadership style is very different. I believe in democracy and I believe the Democratic Party should operate in a democratic manner," she said. "What that means is inclusiveness, notice of what you're going to vote on, deliberation. People need to know what is going on to be an intelligent, active participant."
Republican chairman Luke Esser lost his seat last weekend to talk-radio veteran Kirby Wilbur who more recently led the state chapter of the tea-party-linked Americans for Prosperity group. Pelz said it's different for Democrats and that "the GOP has been energized by the tea party. A lot of tea party people were elected to their state central committee. They believe the establishment is lurking everywhere and needs to be thrown out."
Also up Saturday are elections for Democrats' vice chair, secretary and treasurer. Rob Dolin of Seattle is the lone candidates for secretary, replacing Luis Moscoso, who won election to the state House from north King County. Valeria Brady Rongey of Spokane is in line for the vice chairman job, replacing Sharon Smith of Spokane, who is stepping down. And Habib Habib of Edmonds is back again for treasurer.
The Democrats were meeting this this evening and will be back again Saturday at the Red Lion on Olympia's west side. The vote is due around mid-afternoon.