Rep. Mike Pence, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Rep. Dave Reichert
Rep. Mike Pence, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Rep. Dave Reichert

With 2019 two-thirds of the way over, and with the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions fast approach­ing, the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty is run­ning out of time to fig­ure out who to put up for most of the nine statewide exec­u­tive depart­ment posi­tions that are always con­test­ed in pres­i­den­tial years along with the presidency.

Out of pow­er in Olympia and ham­pered by a thin bench, the par­ty has yet to recruit cred­i­ble chal­lengers against most of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bents who will be seek­ing reelec­tion. (Democ­rats hold six of the nine posi­tions in the exec­u­tive depart­ment, while Repub­li­cans have two. A ninth is offi­cial­ly nonpartisan.)

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s like­ly tick­et for exec­u­tive races appears pret­ty much set.

Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee has declared for a third term, and will be run­ning along­side Cyrus Habib for Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor, Bob Fer­gu­son for Attor­ney Gen­er­al, Hilary Franz for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands, Pat McCarthy for Audi­tor, and pos­si­bly Mike Krei­dler for Insur­ance Com­mis­sion­er (unless he retires).

The par­ty may also throw its bless­ing behind Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion Chris Reyk­dal’s reelec­tion. Reyk­dal was once a Demo­c­ra­t­ic legislator.

Addi­tion­al­ly, Democ­rats already have a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenger for incum­bent Trea­sur­er Duane Davd­son, one of the two Repub­li­cans expect­ed to seek reelec­tion: the wide­ly respect­ed and well regard­ed State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mike Pel­lic­ciot­ti of the 30th, who has already out­raised David­son three times over.

That just leaves Sec­re­tary of State, an office Democ­rats have not held in more than half a cen­tu­ry. Incum­bent Kim Wyman plans to run again and will be dif­fi­cult to beat. State Par­ty Chair Tina Pod­lodows­ki was Wyman’s last oppo­nent and could not take Wyman out despite get­ting over 58% of the vote in King Coun­ty.

As par­ty chair, find­ing an oppo­nent for Wyman is now one of Pod­lodowski’s many respon­si­bil­i­ties. As chal­leng­ing as that task might be, it utter­ly pales in com­par­i­son to the prob­lems that State Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair Caleb Heim­lich is deal­ing with. That afore­men­tioned thin bench makes the recruit­ment of appeal­ing, cred­i­ble can­di­dates on the Repub­li­can side a very tall order.

Notice I said appeal­ing, cred­i­ble can­di­dates. There’s no short­age of Repub­li­can activists and down­bal­lot office­hold­ers who think they have what it takes to go up against Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bents. The mil­i­tant, far right state sen­a­tor Phil For­tu­na­to thinks he’s guber­na­to­r­i­al mate­r­i­al. So does Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic.

Top Repub­li­cans would pre­fer some­one else at the top of the tick­et… some­one who could actu­al­ly com­pete for votes in the state’s vote-rich suburbs.

The ide­al can­di­date is some­one who has run and won before and been elect­ed in an area larg­er than a small rur­al coun­ty or a leg­isla­tive dis­trict. Pierce Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Bruce Dammeier would qual­i­fy, but he does­n’t seem inter­est­ed in vacat­ing his cur­rent job for what could eas­i­ly be a los­ing cam­paign for high­er office.

And so Heim­lich and oth­er Repub­li­cans are turn­ing to Dave Reichert.

The for­mer King Coun­ty Sher­iff won elec­tion to the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 2004 and was able to secure reelec­tion in six suc­ces­sive cycles: 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. In 2018, Reichert opt­ed to retire rather than seek anoth­er term, and Democ­rats cap­tured the seat, now held by Kim Schrier.

Reichert is now a lob­by­ist at Gor­don Thomas Hon­ey­well, and by all accounts, seems pret­ty hap­py there. Still, it’s always nice to be want­ed, and Reichert has on sev­er­al occa­sions expressed an inter­est in serv­ing as governor.

Prob­lem is, to become gov­er­nor, Reichert would have to work very hard, putting in long days and doing a lot of trav­el. He would need to artic­u­late at least a sem­blance of a plat­form or cam­paign for gov­ern­ing that would inter­est those vot­ers who aren’t already plan­ning to vote a straight or most­ly straight Demo­c­ra­t­ic tick­et in 2020. But even if he did all that, his cam­paign might still be a point­less effort. There sim­ply may not be enough vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton who are will­ing to sup­port some­body run­ning along­side Don­ald Trump for high office next year.

If Gov­er­nor of Wash­ing­ton State were an appoint­ed posi­tion, I have no doubt Reichert would glad­ly jump at the oppor­tu­ni­ty to serve.

But it’s not an appoint­ed posi­tion; it’s an elect­ed one. Reichert would have to cam­paign, and vig­or­ous­ly. He’d need to invest seri­ous time famil­iar­iz­ing him­self with a bevy of state lev­el issues in order to tru­ly be a cred­i­ble candidate.

And he’d need to fig­ure out how to respond to Demo­c­ra­t­ic crit­i­cisms of his record as a mem­ber of the Unit­ed States of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, espe­cial­ly his final two years in office, in which he was an enabler of the agen­da of Don­ald Trump.

Reichert has con­sid­ered under­tak­ing such a jour­ney before, in 2015. He ulti­mate­ly decid­ed to take a pass and Seat­tle Port Com­mis­sion­er Bill Bryant went on to become Inslee’s chal­lenger. Inslee dis­patched Bryant with ease in 2016.

The polit­i­cal cli­mate for Repub­li­cans has not improved since then.

In fact, it’s got­ten worse. Much worse. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty cleaned up very nice­ly in the 2018 midterms, adding sev­en State House seats and three State Sen­ate seats to its leg­isla­tive major­i­ty in addi­tion to cap­tur­ing WA-08 for the first time ever, mak­ing Reichert’s suc­ces­sor a Demo­c­rat. Democ­rats remain offen­sive­ly-focused in 2020. They’re plan­ning on cap­tur­ing even more leg­isla­tive seats, defeat­ing Jaime Her­rera-Beut­ler in WA-03, and unseat­ing Duane Davidson.

If Reichert says yes to run­ning, it will make the 2020 guber­na­to­r­i­al race less bor­ing for reporters and polit­i­cal observers, but it will not help the Repub­li­cans’ prospects con­sid­er­ing that Trump is the head of their par­ty. There are few­er and few­er vot­ers oper­at­ing on the basis of “I vote for the per­son, not the par­ty” these days.

This “Trump card” may be the decid­ing fac­tor for Reichert.

As I allud­ed to above, there is no escap­ing the vor­tex that is Don­ald Trump. He has remade the Repub­li­can estab­lish­ment in his image with the wild enthu­si­asm of the peo­ple that same estab­lish­ment have long con­sid­ered their base.

Any­one who files for office as a Repub­li­can in 2020 is sign­ing up to be part of Trump’s tick­et and Trump’s par­ty. “Prefers Don­ald Trump’s Par­ty” would actu­al­ly be an accu­rate and fit­ting descrip­tor for Repub­li­cans on next year’s ballot.

Under­stand­ably, Caleb Heim­lich does­n’t want to sim­ply con­cede next year’s state lev­el elec­tions to the Democ­rats, which is why he’s labor­ing to recruit some­body who has Reichert’s lev­el of name recog­ni­tion to run for governor.

But for Heim­lich’s recruit­ing for gov­er­nor and oth­er state lev­el offices to not be an exer­cise in futil­i­ty, the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty and its can­di­dates would have to pull off what would seem to be an impos­si­ble feat: woo vot­ers who don’t like what their par­ty has become with­out alien­at­ing their Trump-lov­ing base.

They could­n’t man­age it in 2016. What’s going to make 2020 any different?

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Dave Reichert for Governor? Republicans can dream, but they can’t escape Trump in 2020”

  1. I will sup­port you. Inslee sup­port­ed Smokey Point Behav­ioral Hos­pi­tal. That has result­ed in harm and death that should not have hap­pened. Our home­less­ness [prob­lem] would ben­e­fit with improve­ments to our men­tal health care and addic­tions and mass shootings.

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