N2K: Could the ‘Prince of Pork’ Be the Tea Party’s Best Friend?

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March 9, 2011, 4:45 a.m.

A Magel­lan Data and Map­ping Strategies (R) (IVR) poll; con­duc­ted 10/10; sur­veyed 1,107 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 2.9% (re­lease, 10/12). Party ID break­down: 56%D, 30%R, 13%I. Tested: Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter (R), Rep. Charlie Mel­ancon (D-03), Mi­chael Brown (I), ‘08 LA-06 can­did­ate/ex-TV pro­du­cer Ran­dall Hayes (L), busi­ness­man Bill Mc­Shann (RP), busi­ness­man Mike Spears (I) and state Rep. Ern­est Wooton (I).

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

- All Dem GOP Ind Men Wom Wht Blk 9/19 6/13 D. Vit­ter 51% 33% 86% 50% 56% 47% 65% 12% 52% 52% C. Mel­ancon 35 54 6 24 33 37 23 71 34 31 R. Hayes 3 2 2 10 4 3 3 2 2 n/a B. Mc­Shann 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 — 1 n/a E. Wooten 1 1 — 1 1 0 0 2 1 n/a M. Brown 1 1 — — 1 1 0 1 1 n/a M. Spears 0 — 0 — — 0 0 — 1 n/a Un­dec 9 9 5 15 5 12 7 13 10 17

Fav/Un­fav

- All Dem GOP Ind 9/19 D. Vit­ter 44%/38% 29%/50% 75%/15% 33%/40% 49%/37% C. Mel­ancon 26 /48 37 /34 9 /72 20 /51 28 /46

(For more from this poll, please see today’s LA In The States story.)

Call it one of the great para­doxes of the mod­ern polit­ic­al land­scape: As both sides dig in to pro­tect the ideo­lo­gies sac­red to their re­spect­ive bases, more and more Amer­ic­ans are abandon­ing both parties and identi­fy­ing them­selves as in­de­pend­ent voters. At the very mo­ment each party is ap­peal­ing to its base, the bases are shrink­ing.

That means a can­did­ate who can ap­peal bey­ond his or her party base, to the elu­sive cros­sov­er voter, is at a premi­um these days. So far, there are a pleth­ora of firmly par­tis­an can­did­ates run­ning for of­fice; it’s hard to ima­gine, for ex­ample, a voter who would cast a bal­lot for both Pres­id­ent Obama and Vir­gin­ia Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ate George Al­len, or for Mitt Rom­ney or Rick Perry and Ohio’s Demo­crat­ic Sen. Sher­rod Brown.

But in Wash­ing­ton state, which has be­come a Demo­crat­ic strong­hold in re­cent years, Re­pub­lic­ans have found a can­did­ate they be­lieve can ap­peal to well-edu­cated voters largely pre­dis­posed to­ward Demo­crats. If At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Rob McK­enna con­tin­ues woo­ing Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing voters, the state may break its 28-year old streak of elect­ing Demo­crats as gov­ernor.

McK­enna has a his­tory of win­ning cros­sov­er votes. In 2008, Pres­id­ent Obama won 57.6 per­cent of the vote statewide; McK­enna, seek­ing reelec­tion, pulled in 59.4 per­cent. Now, a poll con­duc­ted for Strategies 360, a Seattle pub­lic af­fairs firm, shows McK­enna lead­ing Rep. Jay Inslee, the likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee, by a 46 per­cent to 39 per­cent mar­gin.

The dif­fer­ence between McK­enna and oth­er Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates in Wash­ing­ton state is his ap­peal to col­lege-edu­cated voters. Those voters have for years favored Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates. In 2008, Wash­ing­ton state col­lege gradu­ates favored Obama by a 61 per­cent to 37 per­cent mar­gin. But in 2010, they showed an in­terest in vot­ing Re­pub­lic­an: Col­lege gradu­ates favored Demo­crat­ic Sen. Patty Mur­ray over Re­pub­lic­an Dino Rossi by a much nar­row­er 55 per­cent to 45 per­cent mar­gin (Mur­ray and Rossi tied among those voters who held only a bach­el­or’s de­gree, at 50 per­cent each; Mur­ray won among those with post-gradu­ate de­grees by a whop­ping 28 points).

At a time when the Re­pub­lic­an Party is be­ing dom­in­ated by a pop­u­list fer­vor that has mani­fes­ted it­self in the tea party move­ment, McK­enna is de­cidedly not a tea party Re­pub­lic­an who might scare away up­per middle-class voters in the crit­ic­al Seattle sub­urbs — an area he rep­res­en­ted when he served on the King County Coun­cil.

“He is not Sarah Pal­in. He is not a vis­cer­al can­did­ate. He is an in­tel­lec­tu­al can­did­ate. And for those cros­sov­er Demo­crats, that’s what they’ll vote for,” said Todd My­ers, a Wash­ing­ton state Re­pub­lic­an strategist. “Wash­ing­ton voters are more likely to bal­lot-switch be­cause they work harder to look at the can­id­date than just the party la­bel. That doesn’t mean the party la­bel won’t play a role. It does. But they are more will­ing to cross over.”

The poll that shows McK­enna ahead is built largely on name re­cog­ni­tion. More Wash­ing­ton state voters know McK­enna than know Inslee; among those who know both can­did­ates, they are stat­ist­ic­ally tied. The poll, con­duc­ted by Spokane-based Amer­ic­an Dir­ec­tions Group, ques­tioned 500 re­gistered voters in Wash­ing­ton state between Septem­ber 11 and 14, for a mar­gin of er­ror of +/- 4.4 per­cent.

Inslee brings his own strengths to the table. Demo­crats ex­pect him to paint McK­enna as an ex­trem­ist to win back voters who are or­din­ar­ily in the Demo­crat­ic column. Inslee has room to grow among Demo­crats, too; the sur­vey shows Inslee at­tracts two-thirds of Obama voters, while McK­enna wins nearly nine in 10 Mc­Cain sup­port­ers.

Much as McK­enna turns the tables on the pre­vail­ing mood with­in the Re­pub­lic­an Party, Inslee is chart­ing his own new course, one that even com­mit­ted lib­er­als would have been wary to pur­sue in re­cent years: Inslee will draw a con­trast with McK­enna over same-sex mar­riage. While Demo­crats spent years run­ning away from the is­sue, Inslee will em­brace gay mar­riage, a po­s­i­tion in step with 54 per­cent of Wash­ing­ton voters, ac­cord­ing to the Strategies 360 poll.

Though Wash­ing­ton has not elec­ted a Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor since the mod­er­ate John Spell­man took ad­vant­age of a di­vided Demo­crat­ic elect­or­ate to win a single term in 1980, the state re­sponds to Re­pub­lic­ans who por­tray them­selves as cent­rist. Rossi came close, twice, to win­ning the gov­ernor­ship (Wash­ing­ton Re­pub­lic­ans are still sore over the 2004 race, which Demo­crat Christine Gregoire won by just 129 votes after a nasty leg­al fight).

If McK­enna can keep his repu­ta­tion as a cent­rist in­tact and avoid the stain of the tea party, Re­pub­lic­ans have a real shot at end­ing an his­tor­ic los­ing streak. Those hopes rest on wheth­er Inslee has found a new way to ap­peal to in­de­pend­ent voters — with an is­sue that once would have hurt Inslee polit­ic­ally, and one that speaks to just how lib­er­al an elect­or­ate McK­enna now faces.

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