Washington state

Republicans have no place to go but up

It's deja vu for Washington's reeling Republicans.

Once again, the GOP isn't looking very grand, having been pulverized and marginalized in the November election and finding Democrats dominating the political landscape from Congress and the entire Olympia apparatus on down to the local level.

Republicans are now beginning to pick themselves off the floor and are girding for yet another comeback attempt. Philosophical about their recent losses, they insist that history shows that they can bounce back rather quickly, beginning with the 2008 campaign cycle that already is quietly under way.

Republicans don't talk about reclaiming all the lost territory in one election cycle. But they do see some gains from this low-water mark.

If they don't get too big for their britches and govern wisely, Gregoire and the Democrats will solidify their popularity and continue to win, says Senate budget Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton.

Pendulum swings

Washington often is portrayed as a "blue" Democratic state and that's usually pretty accurate. The state hasn't voted Republican for the White House since Ronald Reagan or for governor since 1980. Over time, Democrats have usually controlled the congressional delegation and the majorities in Olympia.

But many voters have weak party loyalty and are perfectly willing to switch horses.

Party strategists and independent analysts generally agree that the Republicans are at their low ebb - again - and can only go up from here. The November wipeout will be followed by at least a modest corrective in the 2008 election, they predict.

"It was fluid enough for us to lose all these seats and it's fluid enough to get them back," says House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis.

Bottom line is that neither party has cornered the market, analysts say.

Permanent realignment?

Gregoire and other Democratic leaders and analysts acknowledge the cyclical nature of elections here, but say a permanent realignment seems to be afoot in some areas.

Gregoire says that's because Democrats are more aggressive on education, transportation, health care and other jobs that resonate with independents.

"Washington is still a competitive state, but since 1996 at least, it has become a little more solidly Democratic each time," LeLoup says. "There has been an evolution and Republicans will have a hard time getting those seats back."

Comeback strategy

National GOP strategists, including Karl Rove, argue that the setbacks are only a temporary blip and that conservatives can still aspire to majority party status.

Tebelius and other Washington GOP leaders say there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Republican campaigns here - just the national drag. But they agree that a comeback will take heavy, unusually early work, from fundraising to creating a crisp and compelling new message.

David Ammons may be reached at P.O. Box 607, Olympia, WA 98507, or at dammons@ap.org.