Washington Republicans face internal feud over endorsements ahead of elections

May 23, 2024, 3:44 AM

Image: Dave Reichert, left, and Semi Bird are running in 2024 to be Washington's governor....

Dave Reichert, left, and Semi Bird are running in 2024 to be Washington's governor. (Photos courtesy of Dave Reichert for Governor/ and Semi Bird for Governor/

(Photos courtesy of Dave Reichert for Governor/ and Semi Bird for Governor/

Washington Republicans are in the midst of an experiment, leading to a political family feud over the most “electable” candidates for the upcoming August primary and November general election.

The divide will become even more apparent as the Mainstream Republicans of Washington hold their annual Cascade Conference from May 31-June 2 in Yakima.

In four of the most prominent races in the state — U.S. Senate, governor, 4th Congressional District and state lands commissioner, there was only one overlapping endorsement between the Mainstream Republicans and the Washington State Republican Party.

Over 1,800 delegates made their endorsements in late April during the party’s annual convention in Spokane.

It featured raucous debates with many delegates sporting MAGA hats and waving Trump banners.

But before the convention, Mainstream Republicans of Washington released its endorsements of former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert for governor, incumbent Dan Newhouse for the 4th Congressional District, and former former U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for state lands commissioner. The current commissioner, Democrat Hilary Franz, is running for the 6th Congressional District seat.

Delegates at the convention endorsed Semi Bird instead of Reichert for governor, Jerrod Sessler instead of Newhouse in the 4th District, and Sue Kuehl Pederson instead of Herrera Beutler for state lands commissioner.

Both groups endorsed Dr. Raul Garcia as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in the race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Maria Cantwell.

It was the first time convention goers endorsed candidates so early in the election cycle, even before the candidate filing period had ended, and delegates did not follow the Mainstream Republicans’ endorsements.

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Reichert left the convention claiming his own party and the event were in a state of “disarray.”

“Our priority is supporting electable candidates, not necessarily the popular ones,” Mainstream Republican Chairwoman Deanna Martinez  said to KIRO Newsradio.

Panelists listed for the Cascade Conference do not include Bird, Sessler, or Pederson. Reichert will be the conference’s keynote speaker Saturday night.

‘The Republican Party is a big tent’

State Republican Party Chairman Rep. Jim Walsh says the public should not read too much into the different sets of endorsements.

“The Republican Party is a big tent, and we have all kinds of perspectives. We are at the beginning of the process,” Walsh said to KIRO Newsradio.

He presided over the Spokane convention and is listed as a moderator and speaker at the Cascade Convention.

“I represent everybody who is moderate, right-of-center politically in Washington, and there are increasingly more and more of those people,” Walsh explained.

By the nature of his job as state party chairman, Walsh sees himself as the peacemaker and coalition builder in support of all Republican candidates.

Martinez, on the other hand, sees her group as backing the candidates that are electable in a state that currently holds the longest streak of Democratic governors in the nation. The last Republican elected as governor of the state of Washington was in 1980.

Voters are not required to list a political party preference when they register to vote.

A January 2024 Crosscut/Stu Elway poll of 403 respondents statewide indicated 53% would register as a Democrat or are independent leaning Democrat. The poll also showed 34% would register  Republican or are independent leaning Republican and 13% declared to be independent. (A PDF of the poll results can be seen here.)

Republicans can ill afford to fracture their vote in what is clearly still a very blue state.

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When asked if she’s satisfied with the current direction of the Republican Party in the state, Martinez replied, “That’s a big question to answer.”

She added, “Am I satisfied? No, I don’t think anybody is satisfied because we really need to work together. Not that we are not, but I think certain areas of the state may not agree with some of what we stand for.”

A gamble to endorse candidates so early

State Republicans took a gamble by endorsing candidates at the April convention so early in the election cycle.

Walsh said the gamble was worth it.

“Yes, I think it was. It activated a lot of new voters. A large majority of delegates on the floor of that convention were first-time delegates. They were people new to the political process. Getting them involved and activated is critically important,” Walsh said.

Martinez believes the intention to endorse candidates early on is a good step to minimize the number of candidates in each race.

“I don’t know if it was successful,” says Martinez.

Both Martinez and Walsh agree the “disconnect” among Republicans is being made a bigger issue than it really is.

While Walsh is trying to be all things to all Republicans, Martinez stresses the party needs to focus its support on the most electable candidates.

“Beating the Democrat is all that really matters,” says Martinez said.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, or email him here.

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Washington Republicans face internal feud over endorsements ahead of elections