Democrats Casting For Candidates Ads Seek Rivals For Nethercutt, Other Incumbents
Wanted: E. Wash. Demo for Congress. Good pay & benefits. No experience necessary, but flexible job or sizable bank account helpful.
Democrats’ efforts to find a strong opponent for freshman Rep. George Nethercutt haven’t quite come to placing a Help Wanted classified ad.
But almost. Two recent Spokane publications did contain ads for “new faces to run as progressive Democratic candidates.”
“If Newt makes you mad and you don’t know what to do …” says the ad, placed by the 500 Club, a Spokane Democratic organization. The ad ran in The Inlander this month and Spokane Woman in December.
Kathy Reid, club president and a longtime political activist, said the ad is not aimed solely at congressional candidates. Democrats also need legislative and county commissioner candidates for the fall ballot.
“But a congressional candidate is foremost in our minds. Newt is sort of the Republican persona on all levels of politics,” she said.
Spokane Democrats don’t really know how to run a congressional campaign from scratch, Reid said.
For 30 years, they had a secure, well-funded incumbent with a ready-made campaign apparatus. That all fell apart in 1994, when House Speaker Tom Foley lost to Nethercutt, a relatively unknown Spokane lawyer.
Most Spokane Democrats are eager to make the race a referendum on Gingrich by painting freshman Nethercutt as someone with a near perfect record of voting with the GOP leadership.
But they can’t do that without a candidate. As the late Sen. Warren G. Magnuson - one of their favorite politicians - was fond of saying, “You can’t beat somebody with nobody.”
Reid got the idea for the ad from a most un-Democratic source - Richard Nixon’s autobiography.
Fifty years ago, Nixon saw an ad from the California state GOP, which was desperate for a candidate to take on an incumbent Democrat. Nixon answered the ad, won the race and started down his road to the White House.
While some longtime Democrats initially scoffed at the idea of advertising for candidates, others said the idea makes sense this year.
“We need to do more outreach. The best people may not be the people we know,” said Diane Welsh Bleck, an Eastern Washington University professor and the state party secretary.
Bleck is considering a campaign, but said this might not be the year for her to run. She was recently named an interim department chairwoman at EWU, a commitment that could keep her from campaigning for several more months.
The different party factions might be more likely to unite behind an outsider, said Bill First, a Spokane public relations consultant. But it will have to be the right outsider.
The 500 Club ad has not yet produced a solid congressional candidate, Reid said. But it has drawn responses from a few people who could be strong legislative prospects.
Meanwhile, Democrats from various factions of the party are trolling for candidates over telephone lines and coffee cups. Reid predicts that one candidate - a Spokane area woman - will announce her congressional race in one or two weeks. As many as two other candidates might also jump into a party primary.
“You can take it to the bank that there’s going to be a qualified candidate,” she said. “There’s no chance that seat’s going to go unchallenged.”
So far, however, the more impressive list is the one for people who have said “Thanks, but no thanks.” Among them:
Rob Fukai, Washington Water Power Co. executive, said he was flattered by several people who called to suggest a congressional campaign. But he recently won an unopposed re-election to the Spokane District 81 School Board, and believes he must keep that commitment.
Lisa Brown, a college professor and state representative from Spokane’s 3rd District, said she wants to stay in the Legislature. With Congress passing more and more responsibility to the states, that’s where the action will be, Brown said. As a single parent, she prefers the part-time legislative post to a full-time congressional seat, she added. She might run for the state Senate in the 3rd District; it’s a Democratic stronghold but the seat is held by Republican John Moyer.
Alex Wood, a liberal radio talk-show host, has had several callers suggest that he run for Congress. Wood said he’s interested in politics, and could seek elective office some day, but isn’t running for the U.S. House this year.
Jack Geraghty, the Spokane mayor, who won his first election the same year as Foley, said he’s been asked to run by a few people. “I’ve never given any thought to that end of the political spectrum,” he said.
Jim Shively, a deputy federal prosecutor and former Vietnam prisoner of war, was on a few lists. His succinct answer: No.
Mari Clack, a Spokane businesswoman and the Eastern Washington representative for former Gov. Booth Gardner, declined. Politics has become too mean-spirited, she said.
Mike Ormsby, a private attorney who serves on the EWU board of trustees, was often mentioned before the 1994 election as a possible candidate when Foley retired. But with four children between the ages of 12 and 4, and a thriving law practice “now is not the right time for me,” Ormsby said.