Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Politics: Didier, Perot, and the Tea Party

KENNEWICK, WASHINGTON - Media in Washington's largest city, Seattle, seemed surprised to find out last weekend that the passion in the Republican Senate race here is behind Clint Didier, not Dino Rossi. Rossi, who has performed strongly in two straight governor races (some say he actually won in 2004 and think the recount was fraudulent), entered the race against incumbent Democrat Patty Murray late, and is the only potential Republican nominee to poll competitively with Murray--some polls have even shown him ahead. Thus, the talking heads considered him a shoo-in for the nomination.

These people obviously haven't been east of the Cascade mountains lately. There are Clint Didier signs everywhere, and I haven't seen more than a handful of Rossi signs. The professional athlete-turned farmer-turned politician seems to be the darling of eastern Washington, and while I hardly take up politics with everyone I meet, I've yet to hear anyone have a bad word to say about him here. He claims Rossi is part of the establishment that needs to be removed from government. Former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has endorsed him, and he won't talk to the mainstream media, in particular Seattle media, though his web site leaves little doubt where he stands on issues--he is a classic Tea Party candidate.

I recognized some of the patterns of Didier's support from the time I last lived here in the Tri-Cities, in 1996. Then, during a presidential race ultimately resulting in the re-election of Bill Clinton, this area was a stronghold of support for independent candidate Ross Perot. I was amazed at the depth of feeling about Perot here; supporters felt even the Republican party stood for too much government, never mind the Democrats, and they wanted Ross Perot to change how government worked, to make it more like the businesses they knew. In many ways, the Tea Party movement had already started here as a big libertarian streak in the Perot movement.

The support for the Tea Party and Clint Didier is especially interesting in the Tri-Cities because incumbent Murray has basically single-handedly saved the local economy by ensuring funding for activities on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. A number of people here are in jobs that would not exist had Senator Murray not secured funding.

Of course, with Washington's "top two" primary system, only two candiates will advance to the general election, regardless of party. Senator Murray seems a shoo-in to earn one of those slots. Whether the Tea Party enthusiasm for Clint Didier will prevail over the conventional wisdom and electability in the form of Dino Rossi remains to be seen. However, that electability concern seems large in this race--while Rossi has a clear chance to unseat Murray, I have yet to see a poll in which Didier even comes close. Washington state may be another state where a Tea Party-supported candidate costs the Republians a chance to defeat an incumbent Democrat.

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