OLYMPIA—Washington Republicans wasted little time trying to draw connections between a Democratic Senate loss in Massachusetts and election prospects in the Evergreen State.
Washington Democrats conceded that the loss of a supermajority in the U.S. Senate complicates plans in the Legislature. They can’t expect Congress to adopt health care reform or a stimulus package before they have to patch a $2.6 billion budget hole and leave town.
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State GOP Chairman Luke Esser called Scott Brown’s election to the seat
previously held by Democrat Ted Kennedy “a national election with a
national reason for celebration for Republicans.” Candidates will
follow Brown’s strategy of reaching out to independents and Democrats
unhappy with federal health care reform, he said.
Washington state has its own U.S. Senate race this November;
Republicans have five announced candidates hoping to take out
three-term incumbent Patty Murray, but none is a household name.
Although many people question whether any Republican can defeat Murray,
Esser said people said that about a Republican winning Kennedy’s seat
just a few months ago.
The party hasn’t chosen to back a particular candidate, as it did in
some previous statewide elections, Esser said: “That’s the old
paradigm. In the current atmosphere, it’s important to let the
grassroots know it’s not going to be a top-down, hierarchical decision.”
The Democrats loss of a filibuster-proof supermajority throws
contentious issues like health care reform into doubt. Legislators had
been advised to draft state health care legislation with an eye to what
the federal government would do and new money it might provide.
“We’ll continue that work, but we have greater uncertainty about what
may happen,” Rep. John Driscoll, D-Spokane, said. “We ought to keep
doing what we’re doing, but we’re in a real fuzzy zone.”
State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said a complete
health care reform package may not pass before the Legislature adjourns
on March 11, but a separate bill that adjusts Medicare funding may pass
because it has support from governors of both parties.
“We haven’t counted on it yet. Regardless of what happens, we’re going
try to aviod any cuts to the Basic Health Plan,” Brown said.
The Massachusetts outcome was unexpected, but Brown said she hasn’t
analyzed it yet. It does show the strength of independent voters, and
“independent voters are a big deal in Washington state.”