With Bill Clinton and Gary Locke pulling the top of the Democratic ticket, the party is better energized and positioned for success in November than it’s been in years.
Republicans, meanwhile, face six weeks of pushing presidential and gubernatorial candidates who have uphill battles.
Ellen Craswell, the GOP nominee for governor, is a hard-line religious conservative with a devoted but limited following.
While she captured the Republican nomination, she is regarded as unlikely to attract the moderate and independent voters she’ll need to win the general election.
King County Executive Locke, the Democratic nominee, is running a centrist campaign aimed at attracting them.
Clinton, meanwhile, has consistently topped opponent Bob Dole in the polls.
The president got an effusive welcome in even the most Republican districts during a two-day campaign swing last week through Seattle, Tacoma, southwestern Washington and Portland.
What a difference, said Joe Lockhart, national chairman of the Clinton campaign. “Before, we had the opposite problem of people scheduling three-day vacations in St. Croix when we were coming to town.”
Just two years ago, Washington led the country in turnover of congressional seats by tossing out five Democrats, including House Speaker Tom Foley.
The 1994 GOP revolution shook up the state House as well, where Republicans captured two-thirds of the seats and took command of the Legislative agenda.
They pushed through tax breaks and rolled back Gov. Mike Lowry’s landmark health-care reform bill.
But now, many of those same Republican freshmen in Congress face tough races to keep their seats in November.
Clinton and the first lady, Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, took to the highways and back roads of the Pacific Northwest for a bus tour that drummed up support and big money for Democratic candidates.
Clinton raised more than $700,000 for Democratic congressional candidates in back-to-back fund-raisers in Seattle. The president has been in demand throughout the country by candidates who hope he can cast a little lucre and limelight on their campaigns.
Todd Myers of the state Republican Party downplayed the strong Democrat comeback. “To say they are in better shape now than in ‘94 ain’t saying much. They got their clock cleaned.”
Republicans are hoping Bob Dole won’t skip Washington state as George Bush did. A Dole visit is promised, but not yet scheduled, Myers said.
Clinton’s trip - his ninth to Washington state since his last campaign - couldn’t have been better timed for candidates like Locke, who shared the podium with the president. The bus tour gave the Democrats’ strong primary showings an even bigger bounce.
On Thursday, 28,000 people waited hours in a morning rainstorm for their chance to see Clinton at a rally at the Tacoma Dome.
The president conceded no turf, taking the caravan of buses down back roads to some of the state’s most conservative districts, twining through small towns that have never been visited by a president.
“We’re not here to talk to the choir. We want converts,” Lockhart said.
Clinton will likely return to Washington again before the November election, Lockhart said.
Washington is a key state for Clinton, and every time he returns Democrats get more bounce, more attention and more money.
As the buses lumbered down back roads, signs of Clinton’s welcome were everywhere. Volunteer fire companies shined up their trucks in the parking lots. People got out their flags and put them on porches, wove them into tree branches, or hung them in the windows.
Golfers hoisted their clubs in greeting from the fairways, dog owners scribbled their pet’s front paw in the air, while others waved flags, both hands, hats and banners.
The rain stopped Thursday afternoon, when the buses rolled into Yelm, where thousands thronged a town park.
People passed their kids to the president over their shoulders, high school bands blasted him with patriotic music and elementary school children offered the first lady choruses of song in sweet, thready voices the crowd quieted down for her to hear.
Even in Centralia, a town so conservative the local paper urged voters to remember their manners while the president was in town, Clinton and company got a royal welcome.
The president warmed to his stump speech there, touched by a huge crowd that started forming at 6 a.m., and waited for him until 2:30 in the afternoon, when Clinton finally took the podium two hours behind schedule.
He emphasized the accomplishments of his administration, pointing out the deficit is smaller, unemployment is down, and millions of jobs have been created since he took office.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo