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Can Dave Reichert get 45%?

Dave Reichert (photo, left, and he sure looks old) probably will be the 2024 GOP nominee for Washington governor.

The white-haired septuagenarian is the closest to a respectable Republican there is in Washington politics, and one of the state’s best-known politicians from having served in Congress, though he’s better known as the former sheriff who caught the Green River killer (read his bio here).

He’ll lose. The only question is by how much. This year elderly politicians are intense scrutiny, but that’s not Reichert’s main problem. As far as I know, he still gets around without a walker.

No, his problem is being a Republican. This state hasn’t elected a GOP governor since 1980. Even though Reichert is a quality candidate, a rare commodity in the GOP these days, he’s tethered to a tainted brand and unpopular platform he isn’t free to repudiate. The only way he could overcome those liabilities is by running as an independent, but then he wouldn’t have party backing to fundraise and mobilize voters.

The baseline GOP vote in a Washington statewide election is about 42%. A Republican candidate with chops can do a few percent better. Rob McKenna, then attorney general, got 48.33% in his 2012 run for governor against Jay Inslee. Bill Bryant, a businessman and Seattle port commissioner, got 45.49% against Inslee in 2016.

Such numbers are a high bar for any lesser Republican candidate. Loren Culp got 43.12% against Inslee in 2020, a spectacular showing for an unqualified novice and gadfly. By “spectacular” I mean the 1.12% above baseline.

Tiffany Smiley, a vastly more plausible candidate than Culp, got only 42.63% in her 2020 Senate run, a measly 0.63% above baseline, which suggests she failed to draw any independent voters despite her compelling biography as a veterans advocate, motivational speaker, and former nurse.

That may have been due to her campaign coinciding with the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Smiley tried to be vague about her abortion position, but nobody believed she wouldn’t toe the GOP line on banning abortions. Abortion rights are in Washington’s constitution, but she’d be a Senate vote for a national ban. Voters didn’t take that risk.

Where does Washington’s blue political lean leave Reichert? Riding into the sunset, and retiring from politics, after a last go. But his candidacy offers the opportunity to play this intriguing guessing game again: Can he break through the 45% barrier?

I don’t know, but a couple of clues strongly suggest no. There’ll be no coattails; Trump drags down Republican candidates in this state. He got 36.83% against Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 38.77% against Biden in 2020, well below the baseline, which means even some Republican voters snubbed him.

That’s not all. The Seattle Times has endorsed Democrat Bob Ferguson. They like him, but more importantly, they don’t like Reichert and consider him two-faced on controversial issues. He angered their editorial board by telling them one thing, and telling supporters the opposite behind closed doors (see article here).

Merely on name recognition, and plausibility as a former congressman, Reichert should be in the same class as McKenna and Bryant, and get around 45%-46%. But don’t bet on it. Hampered by Trump, the Times rejection, and abortion issue, he’ll struggle to reach 44%.

The final embarrassment would be if Reichert does worse than Culp’s 43.12%. If that happens, he should move to another state where nobody recognizes him.

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