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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Will Dave Reichert vote for Trump? He gave his answer at a GOP event

Former congressman and King County sheriff Dave Reichert speaks to attendees at the Mainstream Republicans of Washington Cascade Conference Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Yakima, Washington. (Jennifer Buchanan/The Seattle Times/TNS)  (Jennifer Buchanan/Seattle Times)
By Jim Brunner Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Reichert has avoided publicly stating whether he will vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election.

But speaking to a group of Republicans in March, he gave his answer. Nodding he would vote for the former president, he predicted that publicly saying so would be a “nail in the coffin” for his candidacy.

In a state where Trump is unpopular, and a Republican governor has not been elected since 1980, Reichert knows he needs to woo undecided voters to close the gap with leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Reichert, a former King County sheriff, is running a campaign emphasizing law-and-order and is arguing his presidential preference is irrelevant to the job he’s seeking.

The question of whom Reichert supports for president matters to some Republicans too, as some conservatives have attacked him for not making his allegiance clear. Others say they understand the political tightrope he is trying to walk.

Reichert’s comments, recorded by a Democratic operative, were made at a meeting of the Chelan County Republicans in Wenatchee where he was asked: “Will you be voting for Trump?”

“His nickname for me is Sheriff. I have a MAGA hat at home with his signature on it today,” Reichert responded. “He and I have worked together. I’ve worked with Bush, I’ve worked with Biden, I’ve worked with Obama, and so I can work with any president.”

The audio was provided to The Seattle Times this week by Ferguson’s campaign, which has relentlessly sought to tie his opponent to Trump.

Reichert confided to the GOP audience that he can’t publicly endorse Trump.

“The media is looking for me to make a statement about Trump. That will be the nail in the coffin,” he said. “As soon as I do that, I lose that opportunity to win over some of those 25% of those undecided voters.”

Nevertheless, Reichert continued, “So, someone asked me, will you vote for him? And I said, ‘What’s my head doing?’ ” There’s a pause in the audio followed by muted chuckles. A Republican in the room confirmed at that moment Reichert nodded, as did the Democratic operative who made the recording.

Reichert then wondered whether there were any reporters in the room but was assured “we’re good,” prompting a louder round of laughter. He then returned again to saying he’d get pilloried by Democrats and so won’t “commit to any support for Trump.”

At a meeting the month before of the Douglas County Republicans, Reichert was asked the same question about whether he’d vote for Trump.

“I love Donald Trump’s policies,” Reichert responded, according to a recording also released by Ferguson’s campaign. He said he’d worked with Trump for two years while in Congress and met with him in the Oval Office. “He and I can work together.”

Reichert said he “struggled” over Trump’s disrespectful behavior and name-calling “because I raised my kids to respect people and not call people names. But the policies – he and I are aligned.”

Asked about his comments to the GOP groups, Reichert responded in an emailed statement.

“I will work with whoever the American people choose, but the most important work will be done with and for the people of Washington state,” he said. Republicans, Democrats and Independents need to find common ground, he said, or “we may never recover from leaders who’ve allowed record crime, homelessness, and taxes to overwhelm our families and decimate our confidence.”

Ferguson, in an emailed statement, said: “Behind closed doors, Dave Reichert unmasks who he really is – just another MAGA hat wearing Trump lover.”

The Trump comments are only the latest in a series of recordings of Reichert by Democratic operatives and the Ferguson campaign, which they’ve released to show what Reichert is saying behind closed doors on subjects including abortion and same-sex marriage.

Cary Condotta, the former chair of the Chelan County Republicans, who was at the Wenatchee meeting and saw Reichert nod, said he understands the candidate, whom he supports, has to tread carefully.

“It’s hard to finesse it,” Condotta said, saying while Reichert has sought to distance himself publicly from Trump, and “doesn’t seem to have any like for the guy,” his nod of support to the GOP group was not surprising.

“He’s a Republican. He’s not going to go against (Trump). It’s the whole ‘know your audience thing,’ ” he said. Reichert has at other times, he said, assured Republicans he backs Trump in his rematch against President Joe Biden.

The other major candidates for governor have all been clear publicly on which candidates they’re supporting for president.

Semi Bird, the former Richland School Board member who was endorsed by the state Republican Party in April, has said he’s voting for Trump. Ferguson and his Democratic primary rival, state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, have both backed Biden.

Republicans have rallied around Trump after his conviction in New York a week ago on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, with some attacking the legitimacy of the judicial system and calling for revenge prosecutions of Democrats.

Reichert over the years has had a mixed public view on Trump.

In 2016, while a member of Congress, Reichert called Trump’s candidacy “a joke” and declined to endorse or vote for him, saying he cast a write-in vote for Mike Pence, then Trump’s vice-presidential running mate.

Reichert declined to seek re-election to the U.S. House in 2018 (missing both of Trump’s impeachments) and went to work for a lobbying firm, re-emerging last year when he declared his run for governor.

Since then, he has largely avoided discussing Trump, saying the issues facing Washington state, such as crime and homelessness, are his focus.

In his keynote speech at the Mainstream Republicans of Washington convention last week in Yakima, Reichert didn’t bring up Trump at all.