Turning on the television Monday evening created a sudden moment of panic. Had I slept, Rip Van Winkle-like, for months and awoke in January 2012?
Seven Republican presidential candidates were on a stage in New Hampshire, taking questions from news media types and citizens, with panels of pundits dissecting their every utterance. Surely, the presidential election wasn’t some 17 months away.
But it is, and a GOP presidential debate was on. This was actually the second GOP presidential debate, although the first one had fewer debaters and got less attention because, presumably, May 2011 was way too early for serious candidates to have announced their campaigns.
This is not to complain about the ever-lengthening timeline for the presidential race, which other people do better, elsewhere. A clip from “The Daily Show,” which offers some of the best political satire around, can be found at www.spokesman.com/blogs/ spincontrol/ and probably says it best.
Rather, it’s to warn of an insidious corollary, which can be called the trickle-down theory of campaigning: Anything you see in this presidential campaign you will see soon in the state campaigns and then in local races for mayor, city council or dogcatcher.
(Washington residents do not actually elect a dogcatcher. It just sounds more quintessentially local than some offices we do elect, like cemetery district commissioner.)
Attorney General Rob McKenna announced about 10 days ago he will run for governor next year, which led some of his fellow Republicans to question Gov. Chris Gregoire for not announcing her intentions yet. With the state’s budget problems and a Legislature that went into overtime for 30 days, she didn’t really have much on her agenda.
After the obligatory “talk with the family,” Gregoire said Tuesday she wouldn’t seek a third term, which will likely prompt U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee to announce this week he’ll run for governor, and could get State Auditor Brian Sonntag into the race as well. Others will follow; it will be great good fun.
The fact that McKenna’s in, Gregoire’s out, Inslee will be in and Sonntag might be in next year’s gubernatorial race isn’t surprising to the political cognoscenti, or particularly interesting yet to the rest of the public. Candidates gotta do what candidates do, which is raise a boatload of money, and the sooner they start, the more they can raise.
The real problem is that, like the presidential race, the rest of the campaign machinery is springing to life. So the state Democratic Party is intent on whipsmacking McKenna on an almost daily basis, and state Republicans found it politic to excoriate Gregoire on her announced noncandidacy, presumably as a practice swing for future bludgeoning of Inslee. This will soon be followed by Twitter tweets and YouTube videos, trips around the state in search of supporters, challenges to debate followed by complaints of opponents being afraid to debate, some polling, a change in campaign staff for a candidate whose polling isn’t good, some television commercials to turn around the polling, and more polling, followed by the “leaking” of favorable polling to the media and the denial that any unfavorable polling exists. The danger is that all of this will be up and running by Labor Day, leading to the early campaign for 2012 to T-bone the regular campaign for 2011 at the intersection of “Who are these bozos?” and “Why the heck should I care?”
Sometime soon, the average voter won’t be able to tell who’s running for what, when.
On his best behavior
Before Gregoire signed the last bills of the special session on Wednesday, the online version of this column suggested hijinks could be afoot because inveterate initiative sponsor Tim Eyman had announced plans to attend. In the past, Eyman has signaled his opprobrium of certain legislation being signed with various faces and hand signals.
It seems fair to note that Eyman was what mom would call a proper guest. Not only did he refrain from giving thumbs-down, sticking out his tongue or placing rabbit ears behind the governor’s head during ceremonial picture-taking, but he presented her with a bouquet of flowers.
She seemed surprised and pleased, and they exchanged pleasantries. Even though she didn’t veto a section of the budget he disliked, Eyman later called the press to say it was really the Legislature that should be blamed for forcing her hand.