In just over a month, the first round of presidential decision-making will kick off with the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Yet, despite the early state focus, several Republican front-runners already are directing their attention to the Evergreen State, which they believe could be competitive next year.
Surprising, isn't it? Washington has not gone to a Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984, and the state boasts two Democratic senators, six Democratic members of Congress, a Democratic governor and a Democratic-controlled Legislature. Of course, Washington has elected Republicans from outside the conservative mainstream, such as Sens. Slade Gorton and Dan Evans (who also was elected governor).
But, with Gov. Chris Gregoire's ultimate triumph over Dino Rossi in 2004 and the decisive victories of Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell in their most recent races, sure enough Washington is now viewed as blue territory by most at home and across the nation.
Not according to Arizona Sen. John McCain, though. Recently, he has been touting his ability to beat the Democratic front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, in a head-to-head contest in Washington. McCain is confident that his green streak, evidenced by his sponsorship of major anti-global warming legislation in the Senate and the accompanying praise he earned from green group Environmental Defense, puts him within the mainstream in Washington. He also believes that Evergreen Staters like leaders with an independent streak -- something the man frequently praised (and just as often derided) as a maverick still seems to possess. In addition, he's happy with the results of an October SurveyUSA poll that showed him beating Clinton here, albeit by just one point.
In McCain's view, all that translates into an advantage that the other GOP front-runners simply don't have. Though ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also views Washington as competitive, he fared less well than McCain against Clinton in October's SurveyUSA poll, trailing her by a 50 percent-43 percent margin. Ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did even worse: According to that poll, had the election been held last month, Washingtonians would have favored Clinton over him by a measure of 54 percent to 39 percent.
Of course, in a state that the same pollster deemed 63 percent pro-choice in 2005, and that recently legalized same-sex domestic partnerships, it's probable that the socially moderate-to-liberal Giuliani could garner more appeal as time goes on. Indeed, his camp is counting on it. It's encouraging that a September poll by Moore Information showed him with the same level of support as Clinton (41 percent), though the picture seems to have changed some since then.
Romney also could garner more backing in Washington; he heavily emphasized free trade, an issue his campaign team sees as key, in his recent visit to Seattle and surrounding areas. With Clinton looking increasingly trade-skeptical (witness her promise of a "timeout" on new trade deals if elected), it's certainly possible. After all, 670,000 jobs in Washington are linked to trade, and in 2006, the state exported more goods and services than all but three other states in the nation. Pro-trade sentiments sell here; what Clinton is offering may not.
Yet, with SurveyUSA's November round of polling just published, it appears that Romney has in fact slid further back. Had the election been held this month, just 37 percent would have backed him, contrasted with 57 percent who would have voted for Clinton. And, his numbers could go yet further south, with news that Daniel Tavares Jr., the alleged killer of Brian and Beverly Mauck in Graham, was freed by a judge he appointed in Massachusetts.
That will be of little concern to McCain, of course, though the most recent data should cause him some worry, too -- if only a little. In a month, he's gone from beating Clinton narrowly, to ending up with 43 percent to her 52 percent. That leaves him with the same percentage as Giuliani, the only Republican holding steady in the Evergreen State, where he continues to poll at 43 percent to Clinton's 50 percent.
That's about as good as it may get for the Republican nominee in the state next year, and it's potential early good news for Washington's Democrats. However, they'd be unwise to chalk up a victory just yet. Whatever the numbers, the fact that three Republican front-runners are showing an early interest in the Evergreen State should mean that Democrats will stay on their toes -- and a lively 2008 campaign for all.