Biggest factor in McKenna’s defeat was McKenna

Several factors contributed to Republican Rob McKenna’s defeat in a race he figured he could win.

For example, his national party’s tarnished name brand likely lost him votes. His opposition to abortion certainly cost him with women voters. And the lack of a competitive race in this state for president may have depressed turnout in prime GOP enclaves.

Ultimately, the reason Rob McKenna is not going to be the next governor is Rob McKenna.

The course he set out on when he launched his campaign last year left him lacking what he most needed at the finish to beat Jay Inslee, arguably one of the Democratic Party’s weaker candidates for governor in awhile.

With victory in grasp, McKenna required an army of volunteers working endless hours contacting potential voters. Though he and the state Republican Party had such troops deployed around the state, they did not number anywhere near what Inslee and the Democratic Party assembled.

The results are humbling. Those toiling in the state GOP Victory Offices made 1.5 million phone calls and knocked on 150,000 doors, each time urging support for McKenna, said party Chairman Kirby Wilbur. By comparison, the Democratic Party’s coordinated get-out-the-vote effort made 4 million calls and knocked on 2 million doors to plug Inslee, spokesman Benton Strong said.

Why such a discrepancy?

McKenna decided early on he wanted to keep his campaign a safe distance from the national Republican Party, and, it seemed, other Republican candidates. He seemed confident and content to go it alone.

He never embraced his party’s presidential ticket in the way Inslee did his. Not surprisingly, those associated with the Republican National Committee and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign got the impression McKenna didn’t want their help even indirectly. In the end, the RNC wired $60,000 to the state party Nov. 6, Election Day, to help get out the vote. That’s too little, way too late to make a difference.

In contrast, the Democratic undertaking had funds coming in from all corners of the party. They shared data and worked across lines of the various campaigns. They had cohesion in their ranks unlike the GOP.

McKenna also paid a price for running as a different kind of Republican, one whom moderate Democrats and independents could support. He downplayed his opposition to abortion and gay marriage, insisting he wouldn’t try to change any laws on the books. He said he was ready to move forward with a federal health care law he labored hard to derail.

This won him support of newspaper editorial boards but cost him among those in the base of the Republican Party where one can find the greatest number of volunteers.

These folks will invest their most valuable resource — time — in candidates whose ideas they agree with or whose values they believe in. The more inspired, the deeper the commitment, the greater the investment.

McKenna never clicked with them. They voted for him but didn’t appreciate his pragmatism. They didn’t expend the energy they did in Republican Dino Rossi’s two bids for governor.

Without impassioned volunteers and a united Republican front, here’s what the campaigns looked like in the final week:

McKenna traveled around the state in a recreational vehicle, holding gatherings with crowds ranging from a dozen to a 100 people. Rossi, on the letterhead of the state Republican Party, appealed for money from Washington donors to help Romney win in battleground states. And U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the GOP’s rising congressional star, plotted her ascension into a House Republican leadership post, which she secured Wednesday.

Inslee, meanwhile, traveled around Western Washington in a bus, with U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, members of Congress and legislative candidates. They found themselves speaking to impassioned crowds routinely numbering in the hundreds, many of whom went back to contacting voters after an hour of cheering candidates.

Washington will get a Republican governor again one day. It could possibly be McKenna in 2016.

Though he’s the reason he lost this year, he can be the reason he wins the next time.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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