That was fast. Putting an end to weeks of rumor, Monday morning at the base of the Space Needle, Attorney General and current gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna made official a new cross party supporter group “Democrats for McKenna,” also known as D4R.
The headline endorser was none other than Washington State’s most popular elected official, outgoing State Auditor Brian Sonntag. Sonntag made news last week for his flattering praise of another Republican, James Watkins, a candidate to be the next State Auditor. Sonntag was no less flattering of McKenna, referring to him as “the smartest guy I know.” In a released statement from which he loosely strayed in his press conference remarks, Sonntag had this to say,
“After years of effective partnership, mutual respect, and friendship, helping Rob in this capacity was an afterthought. I am confident he is the right person for the job. Olympia has been polluted by special interest or partisan meddling. I’ve seen Rob display the kind of leadership that can get past all of that.”
Joining Sonntag behind the podium were a dozen other known Democrats. Of note was one familiar face, Washington State Wire’s Publisher Emeritus, former Democratic State Legislator and statehouse lobbyist Jim Boldt.
Others present included Potlatch Senator Tim Sheldon, former Senator Mark Doumit, Thi Huynh, Paul Carkeek, Marie Mentor, Ron Chow, Kirke Sievers, Maggi Fimia, Morrie Trautman, Larry Finegold, and Judy Yu. While not present, McKenna also announced the support of former mayor of Seattle Wes Uhlman, former campaign manger to Congressman Norm Dicks Scott Nelson, and former Seattle mayoral candidate James Donaldson. McKenna also made clear that more big names were to come.
The State Democratic party was unenthused by the announcement (to say the least). In a statement Chairman Dwight Pelz dismissed the group as a “stunt” put on by the usual cast of characters.
“We’ve been through Democrats for Dino and Democrats for Hutchison. We’re looking forward to the pattern of this failed stunt continuing with Jay Inslee winning this election and becoming our next governor.”
Ouch. However, historically Pelz is right. In the end these groups have proved insufficient to deliver Republicans a win. But we’d be lying if we didn’t say this time feels a bit different. After all, unlike before, McKenna is the current front runner in the campaign against Jay Inlsee with a solid fundraising and polling margin in his favor.
At the press conference McKenna made clear he intends to shoot for the center, pointing to being the first statewide Republican campaign to base its steering committee in Seattle. On top of D4R, McKenna also announced the endorsement of the Public School Employees Union.
Both these announcements come at an advantageous time for McKenna. On Tuesday he and Inslee will face off in their first televised debate in Spokane. One can expect McKenna to make his “broad base” of support a key message in the debate.
McKenna has benefited from the absence of a tough primary challenge which has allowed him to pivot center to court Independents and moderate Democrats early on while maintaining the strength of his base. At some point Inslee too will need to pivot center to capture enough independent voters to win. Although the weighted Democratic voter base may give him more time to do so.
Again, Washington State Wire asks, “How long will it take before we hear about a “Republicans for Inslee” organization?”