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Election finally over? Not so fast …

Confusion, surprises, rematch mark a memorable campaign

Let’s all raise a glass of cheer to the 2008 election and toast the fact that it’s over. Finis. Kaput. For that, most of us will say, “About time.”

The presidential race lasted 20 months from the time the first candidates announced until Tuesday. Washington’s gubernatorial redo more or less began in May 2005, when a judge rejected the state Republicans’ challenge of the 2004 results. With so much politics over so long a period of time, there were bound to be some highlights and some lowlifes. Here are some:

Are we caucusing or primary-ing? Yes. With both parties facing crowded presidential fields, Washington had record turnout for its precinct caucuses. The meetings included many first-time participants who filled school auditoriums, community centers and church halls for a process that many found difficult to understand. Ten days later, the state held its presidential primary, also with record turnout. Except that the Democratic votes didn’t count for anything, and Republican votes only picked half the delegates. Over in Idaho, it was also confusing: Democrats caucused; Republicans had a primary.

Obama wins the Idaho caucuses. Really. Idaho is a traditional “fly over” state for Democrats, but Barack Obama’s campaign sent ground troops into the state in advance of county caucuses and came away with another victory on Super Tuesday. The shock of a liberal black Democrat winning Idaho had ripples far greater than the state’s handful of delegates.

Ron Paul wins Spokane County. Big time. The award for best organization has to go to the Ron Paul Republicans, who took the biggest plurality of delegates out of Spokane’s GOP caucuses and did well statewide. They remained a thorn in the side of John McCain’s forces throughout the county and state conventions. They professed loyalty to the Republican Party, although some did catch last month’s speech by Constitutional Party presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin in Spokane Valley.

Can’t you pick a different day? Spokane is rarely a stop on the presidential campaign trail, so local Democrats were understandably thrilled when they heard Michelle Obama was coming to town Feb. 8. They were doubly thrilled to learn Hillary Clinton was also coming … the same day. Although the events were scheduled at different times, the lines to get through security meant it would be impossible to attend both. Clinton was late, so her event was still going on when Obama’s started.

Aren’t our votes as good as theirs? Clinton’s event was the more poorly planned of the two. Held at the West Central Community Center, reportedly as a nod to labor unions, the venue was way too small for the crowd that showed up. It was billed as a town hall meeting, with questions from the audience, but was cut down to a rally speech without explanation. Campaign staff told reporters afterward Clinton had to get to Maine.

A career flushed, a seat held. Very early on, Idaho’s U.S. Senate race took a detour through a men’s room in the Twin Cities. After initially saying he’d resign, Larry Craig decided to serve out his term and retire, leaving the race open. The 10-person primary was whittled to a five-way general. Craig remained a target for late-night comic monologues, but the race revolved around more serious issues and left the seat in Republican hands.

Lock and load. Over in Idaho’s 1st District House race, Republicans weren’t so lucky. Freshman incumbent Bill Sali faced defections of recognizable Republicans willing to endorse Democrat Walt Minnick on TV. Minnick may owe his narrow victory to a key stat: He owns seven guns; Sali has only five. No report on who had more ammo.

Who says politics is worthless? Washington’s major parties held their state conventions in Spokane. On back-to-back weekends, political activists rented the convention center, filled hotel rooms, and spent money in restaurants and bars. Agree or disagree with the candidates, but they were a boost to the economy.

Stop, thief. This summer, the Building Industry Association of Washington put up billboards throughout Eastern Washington with Dino Rossi’s name and “Don’t let Seattle steal THIS election” – a reference to 2004 and the tendency of King County to find mislaid ballots during recounts. When Chris Gregoire nudged Rossi in the final hand recount, many of his supporters thought the fix was in. The billboard attempted to capitalize on that anger but forced Rossi to repeat that no, he wouldn’t accuse Seattle of stealing the last election and he didn’t think anyone would steal this one. In the last week of the campaign, however, state GOP chairman Luke Esser resurrected the “s” word in press releases.

What’s four votes between friends? Rossi repeatedly said the 2004 race was decided by 129 votes, and the billboards that replaced the “Don’t let Seattle steal” signs used the number, too. But Rossi lost in 2004 by 133 votes, or at least that’s what Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges said after a two-week trial on the lawsuit the state GOP filed trying to overturn the final recount. Four ballots for Rossi proved to be invalid and had to be added into the 129-vote margin. It wasn’t the result Republicans sought, but it was the decision they paid for. For some reason, Rossi just couldn’t add in those four other votes.

Go GOP or go away. Democrats made much of Rossi listing his party preference for the state ballot as “GOP party,” claiming he was trying to distance himself from Bush and the Republican “brand.” They claimed it was an attempt to confuse voters who didn’t know what GOP stood for – as if voters so far removed from political discourse would care which party a candidate favors. The only real problem was grammatical: It meant Rossi preferred the “Grand Old Party party.”

Get a new sound man. In an early anti-Rossi ad, state Democrats used the theme song from “The Sopranos” as background music, prompting justifiable complaints from Italian-Americans in Seattle.

Get the hose. While Rossi and Gregoire commercials were generally within the bounds of acceptable political discourse – which is not to say they were good, just not egregiously bad – independent groups’ ads were much worse. The Republican Governor’s Association angered the state’s tribes by stereotyping Native Americans in one commercial. Arguably the worst was the incendiary RGA commercial in which the narrator doused a pile of fake money with gas and tossed a match to show how Gregoire had overspent. Because most of the state’s money goes for schools, colleges and services, it’s pretty hard to argue the amount was, to quote the narrator, “gone” – not all of it well-prioritized, perhaps, but not gone.

Is she running for re-election or the lead in “Annie”? With the state poised to receive a budget projection that would be, at best, sobering, Gregoire continued to act as though everything in Washington was good and would be even better if not for that Bush guy in the other Washington messing up the national economy. At an impromptu press conference in Spokane on Sept. 15, two days before a state economic forecast was due, a television reporter asked the governor a setup question about the deficit, and she responded that there was no deficit, the state had a surplus. This was technically true, but the statement handed the Rossi campaign a piñata it could beat when the bad revenue forecasts came out, as well as video to cut and splice into commercials.

The ads get taxing. Republicans reached into the playbook for a golden oldie strategy against Gregoire and legislative Democrats: “They’ll make us pay an income tax.” Although there is no such proposal – and nothing more substantive than occasional opinion that an income tax might be fairer than the combination of sales, property and business taxes – Republican ads suggested an income tax would be the first thing a Democratic Legislature and governor would do after taking the oath of office. But most legal experts believe a state income tax requires a constitutional amendment, which needs voter approval.

Never let facts get in the way of a good rumor. It floated around political circles for months: Cathy McMorris Rodgers would resign at some point mid-term if she won re-election, allowing another Republican to be appointed to the seat and get a leg up on the election. A week or so before the election, opponent Mark Mays repeated it in an e-mail to supporters, even though he later told a reporter he didn’t really believe it. McMorris Rodgers denied it, and rumormongers ignored a key fact: When a member of Congress leaves office mid-term in Washington state, no one is appointed to fill the spot. There’s an emergency election.

Good speeches at the end. For all the complaints about Barack Obama being a community organizer who “pals around with terrorists,” the strangest charge leveled against Obama was that he was eloquent. Perhaps it was meant to suggest the country needed someone more plain-spoken (like Hillary Clinton or John McCain), but when did it become a bad thing to have a president who could deliver a good speech? Obama’s victory speech and McCain’s concession speech were both excellent on Tuesday evening.

Contact Jim Camden at (509) 459-5461 or jimc@spokesman. com.


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