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Initiatives block GOP path to governor’s mansion

Republicans were confident they had a winner in Rob McKenna, but Jay Inslee leads in the ballot count. (AP Photo/file)

The re-election of the president has Republicans across the country re-examining their philosophy and strategy. The GOP in Washington state has a special challenge that could help explain its failure to break through in the race for governor.

Republicans were confident they had a winner in Rob McKenna. They did a good job getting out the vote, claiming staffers and volunteers made 1.5 million phone calls between August and Election Day.

“I know they’ve done a great job of turning out Republicans, but there aren’t enough Republicans,” argued former state GOP chair Chris Vance.

He contends Republicans in Washington have an image problem in that they’re victims of the party’s national brand on policies that make it hard for Republicans in some states to swim against the blue tide.

“This has now got to be about messaging, beginning with having a sane immigration policy,” said Vance. “We’ve got to be able to talk to Latino voters and you can’t even talk to them if they’re convinced that your policy is to round up their relatives and deport them.”

Vance said Republicans in blue states must work to move the party on key issues.

“It doesn’t mean the Republican Party has to sell its soul and all of a sudden start advocating for socialism and higher taxes […] but on some of these issues, there is room, I think, for the party to move and change its image.”

But image change, alone, might not be enough.

“The Republicans have what I call an initiative problem,” said Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research at the non-partisan Washington Policy Center. He said Tim Eyman and others promote initiatives that steal the Republicans thunder and bleed support on such issues as tax limits.

“People vote for Eyman initiatives and it gives them less reason to vote for the Republicans,” said Guppy.

In other states, he argued, moderate Democrats and independents who want to lower their taxes have to vote for a Republican candidate to achieve that. Here, they can vote for the initiative and stay with the Democrat.

“Because the voter finds, I can affect certain policy changes by voting for an initiative and then separately I make a vote for the state Legislature or for the governor,” explained Guppy.

At the non-partisan Freedom Foundation, in Olympia, CEO Jonathan Bechtle said the Republicans don’t need wholesale changes in philosophy. He pointed out that voters did split their ticket, voting for Republican McKenna for governor and for President Obama. He argued that moderate Democrats and independents need a compelling reason to vote Republican.

“In the governor’s race, you had to go down a layer to find enough differentiation between the candidates,” said Bechtle, particularly on taxes. And, he added, Democrat Jay Inslee didn’t do or say anything to drive away moderates in his party, or independents.

In 2008, Vance said Democrats had a 10 percent advantage in party identification in Washington, and this year, it was a 13 point advantage.

Bechtle said Republicans must be more targeted toward moderate Democrats, women voters and Hispanics, needing just a couple of percentage points more to make the governor’s race more competitive.

Vance said the white vote in Washington fell from 83 percent four years ago to 76 percent this year. He added the GOP has gotten as much support as it can from white, conservative voters.

“The Republican Party has got to start crafting messages and running candidates who can appeal to the new electorate, which is less white, younger, more progressive and if not, it will not survive.”

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