EVERETT — Most of the plates had been cleared and much of the herb rice with lamb devoured when Shahram Hadian clicked on a wireless mic and stepped on the Floral Hall stage at Everett’s Forest Park.
Applause rippled through the crowd as he walked to the other end, where Stephen Pidgeon waited. In a scene they’ve repeated in cities and towns across the state, the two men from Everett embraced then faced the audience and raised their hands as victors.
For the 100 politically conservative adults gathered in the hall, these two Republican candidates are their champions this election season.
Hadian is running for governor. He’s spent nearly every day for the past year trying to elbow his way out of the shadow of Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, the party establishment’s hands-down pick for the job.
Pidgeon is vying for attorney general against the likes of two members of the King County Council, Republican Reagan Dunn and Democrat Bob Ferguson.
Both face long odds of advancing past next Tuesday’s primary; neither is willing to concede.
“We’re not here for fun. I’m trying to win,” Hadian said. “I’m planning to govern.”
They first met at a tea party rally in Everett two years ago. In this campaign, they’ve shared venues in cities large and small on both sides of the Cascades, with Pidgeon typically opening for the headlining Hadian.
On stage and off, there’s mutual admiration.
Pidgeon calls Hadian a “good friend and fantastic gubernatorial candidate.” Beyond the limelight, he jokingly refers to him as “tovarisch,” the Russian word for comrade.
Hadian says his nickname for Pidgeon is the “doctor of legality” for his analytic dissection of problems using scripture and legal doctrines.
“We like each other,” Hadian said. “I know Steve’s heart. He knows my heart. I know his character. He knows my character. We don’t compromise our hearts.”
Hadian is conducting the more vigorous campaign. He’s raised around $82,000 and has speaking engagements and fundraising events every day. Pidgeon’s done little to raise money and even less to build a campaign operation. For the most part, his exposure comes as the warm-up for Hadian.
On this evening last week, Pidgeon uses his allotted 15 minutes to lay out a case for opposing abortion and same-sex marriage laws and confronting threats to private property rights from government agencies.
In closing, he argues he’s the most qualified in the race because he’s racked up more civil litigation experience than Dunn and Ferguson.
It’s an empathetic crowd, but they’re saving their enthusiasm for Hadian. And he didn’t disappoint.
In the dialect of politics and canter of an evangelist, Hadian orated on the causes of a “moral crisis” in this state in which Republican leaders are compromising personal principles for political gain and allowing an erosion of laws protecting the unborn and the family.
To confront the challenges ahead, he urged them to be true to their convictions next Tuesday and help pull off a small miracle by getting him past McKenna in the primary.
“We must be courageous in our hearts,” he said. “We need to choose a governor who will put principles first before politics. Don’t back down. It is too important.”
Hadian, 41, is a native of Iran who arrived with his family in the U.S. at the age of 7 and has spent the majority of his life in the Pacific Northwest.
He made a splashy entrance into the political arena in 2009 as the front man for those outraged by seeing scantily clad baristas at work in drive-through coffee stands in Snohomish County.
The husband and father pressed the Snohomish County Council to treat those businesses as adult entertainment, even launching a group to stake out stands where they believed employees received tips for more than the espresso drinks they mixed.
The following year, Hadian was one of two Republican challengers to state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.
Though he finished third in the primary, Hadian garnered backing from many established Republicans, including state Rep. Mike Hope of Snohomish and Snohomish County Councilman John Koster.
This year, he’s veered into the far-right lane of the party’s philosophical track. He’s the voice for Washington Republicans whose conservatism is rooted in their faith and watered from a wellspring of distrust of government power.
He preaches a political gospel of principle before pragmatism and says McKenna is too willing to forsake the former in pursuit of the latter. Next week’s vote, he said, will provide a measure of the strength with which Republicans agree.
“We’ll see if those in the Republican Party value their principles. If they do, I think you’ll see a miracle happen,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen, I think you’ll see a splitting within our party in this state for years to come.”
Officially, Hadian’s presence in the race isn’t a concern for party leaders or McKenna. Even so, they make a point to avoid uttering his name, as if doing so might elevate his profile and inflate his vote totals.
How well he does could be a mild source of concern for McKenna’s campaign. Votes from Hadian’s conservative supporters are a piece of a McKenna victory map this fall where he expects to face Democrat Jay Inslee.
But McKenna doesn’t want to win them by moving rightward in his views because that might tarnish his image as a moderate Republican among valued independent voters.
“People will be asking the question, ‘Can he get (the conservatives) in line?’ said Bryan Myrick of Bothell, publisher of the Republican-leaning blog NWDailyMarker.com.
Pidgeon said it will take work.
“If McKenna prevails in the primary and he wants Shahram’s votes, he’s going to have to take some steps that give him some specific (conservative) bonafides,” he said.
Pidgeon, 57, who is married with five children, once fancied a career as a pianist. He studied music in college but pursued law, where he’s chiseled out a reputation as a litigator for conservative and conspiratorial causes.
A Washington resident since 1996, the spotlight found him in 2008, when he filed a lawsuit alleging then-presidential candidate Barack Obama was not a natural-born citizen of the United States. A year later, he pushed for a federal grand jury to investigate the claims.
In 2009, Pidgeon represented Protect Marriage Washington, the coalition that tried unsuccessfully to block an expansion of the state’s domestic partnership law through Referendum 71. He served as the group’s counsel as it fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep secret the names of those who signed petitions to put the measure on the ballot.
His run for attorney general this year coincided with a failed attempt to qualify an initiative aimed at preventing same-sex marriage. Since Pidgeon’s far less likely than Hadian to win, it seems his bid is very much a quixotic act.
“After Referendum 71, I wasn’t going to run. But I wanted to shape public opinion to try to change the hearts and minds of Washingtonians, to raise in particular conservative values,” he said. “This candidacy has been a great platform. It is not a trivial pursuit.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org