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They’re on a Losing Streak

But Washington state’s Republicans might get some ­satisfaction this year.

Oct 8, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 04 • By FRED BARNES
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McKenna, 50, has seized the education reform issue as his own. There’s general agreement that schools, K-through-college, in Washington are underfunded. McKenna points out that higher education got 16 percent of the state budget when he was student president at the University of Washington in the 1980s. More recently, when his daughter was student president, the share had shrunk to 8 percent. One result: The state’s colleges don’t produce enough skilled workers to meet the needs of Seattle’s high-tech firms.

McKenna would cut spending for state government and its employees and shift that money to schools. A tax increase? Perish the thought. Inslee, 61, who resigned his House seat in March to focus on running for governor, says he would bring “lean management” to government and use the savings—theoretical savings—to fund education.

In televised debates, McKenna and Inslee offer a sharp contrast. McKenna knows more, explains his positions with clarity, is a bit nerdy, and occasionally insinuates he’s the smarter of the two. No doubt he is.

But Inslee, a conventional liberal who talks up “light rail” and wants “a cumulative [environmental] impact assessment” before building a port to ship coal to China, is likable. “On a personality basis, he has the advantage,” says Gorton, an active leader of Republicans at age 84.

McKenna cites two reasons why he should win, despite the long drought in Republican governors. One, he outpolled Obama four years ago. Two, he shares the Republican view that Dino Rossi actually won the governorship in 2004, only to have it stolen when Democrats discovered uncounted ballots in Seattle during a recount. So winning wouldn’t be novel.

He didn’t mention a more convincing reason: He’s almost perfectly positioned as a Republican to win statewide. Except for joining GOP state attorneys general in challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare, he’s not identified with the national party. Obamacare happens to be relatively popular in Washington. A new poll here found 42 percent in favor of repeal or “major changes,” 51 percent against.

The conventional wisdom in Washington holds that Republicans can’t win statewide if they take conservative stands on social issues, abortion especially. If those issues are prominent, they’ll dominate the campaign. McKenna is pro-choice. He favors civil unions, already the law in Washington, and quietly opposes the same-sex marriage initiative on religious grounds. So far, so good.

Seattle and surrounding King County, the Democratic heartland, are a test for McKenna. A saying in Washington is that Democrats can see their entire electorate from the Space Needle, built in Seattle for the 1962 World’s Fair. Democrats pay little attention to central and eastern Washington. McKenna cut deeply into the Seattle vote as attorney general, and he needs to again. The rule of thumb is a Republican must get at least
20 percent in Seattle and 39 or 40 percent in King County.

It won’t be easy. Old-timers recall when half the state legislators from Seattle were Republicans. The last one disappeared as the city filled with immigrants from California and New York. Now Seattle is “just a slightly smaller version of San Francisco,” Gorton says. The Rossi campaign died in Seattle in 2004.

But if any Republican can escape destruction in Seattle, it’s McKenna. And if he does, history will be made.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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