The question these days in central Washington is not whether a Democrat or a Republican will represent the Congressional district, but what kind of Republican. And Democrats will play a big role in making the decision.
For the first time in the state’s history, Washington’s top-two system will pit two congressional candidates of the same party: Tea Party-backed former Redskins tight-end Clint Didier and state legislator Dan Newhouse. Democrats, upset with having no representation in the general election, will likely turn to Newhouse, the moderate alternative endorsed by incumbent Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).
“It’s hard for me to believe that all of those people who have been voting for Democrats over the past decade are suddenly going to vote for Didier—I just don’t see that happening,” says Democrat Jay Clough, who ran unsuccessfully against Hastings the past two cycles. Of the around 75,000 Democrats who have voted the past few cycles in Washington's 4th district, Clough suspects that “at least half if not more” will go to Newhouse, and only a “small contingent” will sit out of the race or throw in a write-in ballot. In 2012, 38% of the district voted for Barack Obama.
"Newhouse is most likely going to win because of Democratic support," says Clough.
It’s clear why Democrats wouldn’t like Didier, who ran and lost races for statewide office twice before winning the primary this year by around 6,500 votes. In an interview with the Tea Party News Network this year, Didier said that he wants to go back to the gold standard, abolish the Federal Reserve, end foreign aid, and relinquish the United Sates’ membership in the United Nations. He has been endorsed by Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.
Newhouse, who served under former Democratic governor Christine Gregorie as the state’s Department of Agriculture director, calls himself a “strong conservative” on his website. But despite the lack of good polling in the region, the nonpartisan election handicappers at the Cook Political Report say the race is leaning Newhouse due to “his greater appeal with Democrats.”
“While we don’t like Newhouse—he doesn’t agree with us on very many issues…[he] has been appointed by a Democratic governor in a pretty prestigious position and has said publicly that he not only is willing to but sees it as a duty of holding office to work with the other party,” says Clough. “There’s a difference between that and a guy who wants to tear down basically the structures of government in our country.”
“It’s not a huge stretch to say that Democrats have a lot more in common with Newhouse than Didier,” he adds.
Larry Stickney, the Didier campaign manager, says that Didier's personality and views on protecting civil liberties, including opposition to National Security Agency domestic surveillance and "unconstitutional wars," will attract Democrats to their side. Stickney called Newhouse a "cheerleader for the John Boehner crowd" but Didier "a bit of a populist conservative."
"He’s a guy with some charisma and even some celebrity from his NFL days—kind of favorite son status here," says Stickney of Didier. "[He] has a lot of personal appeal and some of the Democrat folks are willing to forgive him maybe on some of his conservative views because they like him." He adds that the Democrats "don't seem to be really super organized" too.
Indeed, the Democrats have not embarked on any voter mobilization efforts, although Clough and other party leaders have “suggested” voting for Newhouse, according to Clough. “What I’ve said as chair of the Benton County Democrats is that we will not work for a Republican candidate because we’re not Republicans,” Clough says. “We’re Democrats.”
“Right now we’re trying to do what’s best for our community,” he adds. “And what’s best for our community right now is not Didier.”