Election post-mortem: Post-election analysis a somber affair for local Democrats

The election this year brought good news for Washington State Democrats, who now hold majorities in both the state House and Senate, noted 36th District State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles at her 11th annual post-election analysis last week.

But the local good news at the Nov. 18 gathering was overshadowed by the narrow re-election of Pres. George Bush, an event that by the end of the evening left most in the overflow crowd of dispirited, 36th District Democrats looking like someone had just shot their dogs.

The mood wasn't helped any by the fact that the state may end up with a Republican governor for the first time since 1980.

"I know there's been a lot of angst, to say the least..." said Kohl-Welles (D-Queen Anne). But she added that capturing Democratic majorities in the state legislature was "a really bright spot for us."

Campaign consultant and panelist Christian Sinderman agreed. "We do have a lot to celebrate this evening as a party," he said of both state and national races. "We've made the blue parts of the state even bluer."

Still, Sinderman cautioned, there are challenges ahead, especially in dealing with the political schisms between urban and rural parts of the state; the former favored John Kerry for president and Chris Gregoire for governor in the national election, and the latter favored Bush and Dino Rossi.

Panelist and veteran political campaign consultant Blair Butterworth noted that religion is playing a more significant role in national politics than it has in the past. However, he added, religion wasn't necessarily the only factor.

"It does not look as if the gay marriage initiatives made much difference in the battleground states," Butterworth said. He also charged that Republicans and the religious right have hijacked rural values as a core principle.

Rural values, Butterworth added, used to be a Democratic mainstay, representing the positive attributes of communities, neighborhoods and parents knowing where their children were at night.

That poses a challenge for Democrats, according to Butterworth. "The Democratic Party is not the party of Christ," he said. But Democrats need to do a better job of communicating that they believe in "old-fashioned rural values."

Panelist and pollster Don McDonough said polls indicated that moral values were clearly the hot-button issue in the presidential race, adding that moral values were key in Republicans' courting of the evangelical community. "And I think the evangelical turnout did increase significantly."

Panelist and 36th District State Rep. Helen Sommers (D-Magnolia) is also bothered by that development. "I am concerned by the growth of the practice of bringing religion into politics," she said.

Democrats' support of gay marriage also backfired, according to Sommers. "Many of us supported the concept because we supported equal rights," she said, adding that state Democrats did consider the social implications. "Civil unions would probably work better."

The body politic has also been polarized by race in this year's presidential election, said Butterworth, who noted that 62 percent of white males voted for Bush, while 67 percent of non-white males voted for John Kerry.

For white females, 55 percent voted for Bush, while 75 percent of non-white females voted for Kerry, he said. "I think this gives us a picture."

Carl Mack, panelist and executive director of the Seattle branch of the NAACP, slammed Republicans for attacking the national office of the non-partisan civil-rights organization for speaking out against Bush policies. "Being non-partisan does not mean being non-critical," he said.

But Mack cautioned against painting the African-American community with too broad a brush stroke. "Not every Democrat is our friend, and not every Republican is our enemy," he said.

That was evident in the race for governor. According to Mack, at least 5,000 hard-core Democrats in Seattle's African-American community voted for Rossi, who was endorsed by The Seattle Medium, the black community's newspaper.

That was because during her tenure as state Attorney General, Gregoire did not fight against I-200, the anti-affirmative-action initiative, Mack said. She also fumbled the ball when it was revealed that she used to belong to a University of Washington sorority that excluded blacks, Mack added.

In addition, Gregoire "made herself scarce in the African-American community," Mack said, adding that Rossi did just the opposite. "Clearly, the message being sent is: do not take the African-American voter for granted."

Kohl-Welles said state Democrats face many challenges in the next legislative session. "It's important to continue to speak out strongly for the working people, the working families in this state," she said.

Affordable health care is one aspect of that support, but it's not the only one, according to Kohl-Welles. "We also know it is absolutely essential to address education."

Dealing with transportation issues such as replacing the Alaska Way Viaduct is also critical, and the state senate also needs to be retooled, according to Kohl-Welles.

"In the last two years in our senate under Republican leadership, there were no standing committees dealing with labor or the environment," she said. "We will adjust that."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]