Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Washington Democrats getting desperate? But political stock car racing rules

In an already nasty political re-match for the Washington gubernatorial race, things seem to be getting worse. No, I am not talking about the two candidates duking it out on the racetrack with sponsored super stock cars in Monroe; I mean the recent articles about the Washington State Democrats suing Secretary of State Sam Reed over how Dino Rossi chooses to list his partisan preference on the November ballot.

August primary ballots were mailed out and listed Rossi’s party as “prefers GOP’ – Not Republican, as he did in 2004. Washington election law allows candidates to list their party preference however they want, as long as it is not lewd or offensive. If the state's Democrats have their way, Rossi will be listed as a Republican in November.

So extreme is their position on this, the party is seeking a temporary restraining order to keep counties from printing ballots until they get their way. Never mind that scores of ballots have been printing already and even some mailed out to deployed military personnel. If the court rules in favor of the Democrats, those ballots would likely be invalidated and new ones would have to be sent out, potentially stalling a repeat of an election that four years ago lasted months.

Politically this can’t fare well in any way for the Dems. Washingtonians have a severe intolerance now for election malfeasance. When the public understands that this election could be stalled and military members will (again) have trouble voting, the kickback will fall to Chris Gregoire, who has a multi-political liability here. She is the State’s Chief Executive, who vowed after 2004 to reform the election process, she is a candidate in this election, and moreover, she is a Democrat. All of these make political backlash ultimately fall to her. You have to wonder what Democratic strategists were thinking in their war room when they came up with this one.

The Democrats are already lacking. Gregoire has repeatedly, and perhaps too loosely, tried to tie Dino Rossi to the Bush Administration, and subsequently blame him for her budget woes. The strategy there is thin at best. The latest court maneuver reveals that that Dems are nervous. Depending on the poll your read, Rossi is only trailing by an average of 3 points, and in some he is even leading. They have reason to be scared. But trying to involve the courts in removing a simple moniker (however brilliant and politically advantageous) is more a sign of desperation than anything.

Barack Obama’s “Change We Can Believe In” campaign isn’t likely helping Gregoire either. More polls show that McCain is not only seeing significant gains nationally, but it looks like Washington could become a battleground state this year as well. To me, Washington is still overwhelmingly “blue” and I expect Obama to win here handedly, but I don’t think it will be to Gregoire’s benefit. Having a very different campaign, even a career that is exactly the opposite of the “change” Obama is talking about means bad news for her.

For the sake of voter confidence, I am really hoping that the Dems pursuit of a court-ordered election stall won’t last past a news cycle. If it does, Washington has an even bigger concern for how Democracy takes place in a state that seems more in favor of courts to rule elections than the people.