Republican gubernatoral candidate Rob McKenna says the controversies facing the national Republican Party shouldn’t matter when voters pick the next governor of Washington in November.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, McKenna was repeatedly pressed on whether voters here might be turned off by conservative positions on abortion and other issues in the national GOP platform, widely condemned comments on rape by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, or by Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential nominee. In other words, is his party doing him any favors?
McKenna contended the national Republican Party’s stances are not particularly relevant to his gubernatorial contest with Democrat Jay Inslee.”We don’t focus on the national platform, because we don’t think it has a direct bearing on Washington state or the race for governor,” McKenna said. “The race for governor is a state race.”
He noted that Washington voters here have shown a willingness to split their votes — rejecting Republican presidential tickets while still electing Republicans to statewide office. In 2008, for example, McKenna pointed out he won reelection by 19 points, even though Democrat Barack Obama beat Republican John McCain in Washington by 17 points.
McKenna said Democrats are trying to “nationalize” the governor’s race, because “they can’t win on their record” of running the state over the past 28 years. (The last Republican governor of Washington, John Spellman, left office in early 1985.)
“They [Democrats] have a losing record, a record of failure,” McKenna said, citing years of declining education funding and budget shortfalls. “They don’t want to talk about Olympia. They’d rather talk about national issues.”
But Democrats clearly see an opportunity in linking McKenna to the national GOP. Inslee communications director Sterling Clifford disputed the idea that McKenna can distance himself from national Republicans.
“In the last four weeks Rob McKenna has shared a stage with Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell. He’s gone to a [Republican Governors Association] retreat with Karl Rove, and he’s hailed Paul Ryan’s perspective on the federal budget. Rob McKenna has embraced the National Republican Party, its failed leaders and its failed ideas,” said Clifford, in an emailed statement.
And some Republicans fret that the Democratic strategy will work. Chris Vance, the former state GOP chairman, recently told Times columnist Danny Westneat the national Republican image as “anti-progress, anti-science, Christian crusaders” is toxic to the King County voters that McKenna needs to win.
With the Republican National Convention set to begin next week in Tampa, Republicans are planning to adopt a platform that opposes abortion in all cases, with no exception for cases of rape or incest or where the mother’s life is in danger. The convention will also draw attention to Ryan’s proposals for massive federal budget cuts and controversial reinventions of Medicare and Medicaid.
McKenna, who won’t attend the convention, says his position on abortion is the same one he’s had since he started running for King County Council in the 1990s. While he personally opposes abortion, he said “I support a woman’s right to choose under the laws in this state.”
Asked about Ryan and his budget proposals, McKenna praised Ryan’s “budget expertise” and said his selection will focus the national race on the economy and spending. But, McKenna declined to endorse or reject Ryan’s budget blueprints. “I haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on the federal budget or the federal budget deficit,” he said.