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Guest Column

Washington state Republicans failed in the 2010 elections

By all accounts the 2010 mid-term was a historic election. Nationally, Republicans made record gains: the largest mid-term gain in the U.S. House since 1938 (more than 62 seats), gained six Senate seats, secured nearly two-thirds of governorships, gained a stunning 690 state legislative seats and achieved majorities in 19 state houses, the largest state house turn-over since the 1920s.

These astonishing Republican wins nationally and in other states, however, were not reflected in Washington state. Given political conditions in a remarkable election year, the performance of the state Republican party fell far short of its potential.

Here is a wrap-up of the dismal GOP performance in this state:

Washington Republicans failed to defeat a single Democratic incumbent for federal office.

The one congressional district pick-up for Republicans was only possible because it happened to be an open seat; all Democratic congressional incumbents were re-elected, most by comfortable margins. The Washington GOP has not defeated a Democrat incumbent for Congress in more than 16 years.

Republicans picked up only a handful of seats in the state House (+6) and Senate (+4), leaving the pre-election Democratic majorities in both houses securely in place. In addition, Republicans won barely a dozen new county-level offices across the state.

With few exceptions, Republicans failed to win in districts east of Lake Washington, districts that once regularly and reliably elected Republicans.

Republicans failed to show significant turn-out gains in King County, while Democrats produced record turn-out of their supporters, providing the Democratic margin of victory in the U.S. Senate race and several tight legislative races.

Republicans failed to use their popular positions on ballot measures to build electoral support of their candidates. Voter support for tax limitation, repeal of food and beverage taxes, opposition to a King County sales tax increase, defeat of a state income tax and opposition to more state debt often exceeded 60 percent. Yet the popularity of these traditionally Republican ideas was not used to build voter support for Republican candidates.

The 2010 election results show Washington Republicans performed badly in light of their party's overwhelming victories in U.S. House and Senate races and in other states.

Looking ahead, Washington Republicans will have to change their image with the voting public and show they can attract the support of independents, moderates and disaffected Democrats. This is a realistic goal. The outcome of most ballot initiatives shows people in Washington are not as far left as is commonly thought.

Republican leaders could start by clearly and forcefully outlining their governing principles, just as Democrats do, by laying out the key policy changes they would make if elected. Core citizens' concerns such as job creation, small business opportunity, downsizing government and ending the chronic sense of crisis in state finances offer a good place to start.

As the opposition party in our democratic system, Washington Republicans have a responsibility to explain where they believe current policies work against the public interest, particularly in the area of unsustainable spending and ongoing deficits. Republicans also have an obligation to point out proposals, like a state income tax or the unique political influence of powerful public-sector unions, that are sharply out of step with what the people of Washington support.

To have any hope of future victory, Republicans need to show how the policies of the past have contributed to the state's current predicament and, if elected, what reasonable, practical steps they would take to solve the state's most urgent problems.

If Washington Republicans cannot present the public with a compelling case for change, the 2010 electoral pattern will likely be repeated in 2012. In that case Washingtonians can expect Democratic majorities to remain firmly in control in Olympia, and for the Republican candidate for governor to lose with around 49.5 percent of the vote, as late returns from King County are reported days after the election. The result will be either a third term for Governor Gregoire (if she chooses to run) or the election of Washington's fifth Democratic governor in a row.

Voters have a right to choices. Republicans have an obligation to present the public with a realistic, viable alternative to governing Democrats. Otherwise, the 2010 election will come to represent Republicans' high-water mark, rather than what they hope will be a launching pad for victory in 2012.

- Paul Guppy is vice president

for research at the

Washington Policy Center.

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