Top GOP strategists sign up for Celis’ campaign

Republican Pedro Celis needs a spark for his congressional campaign and hopes it will come from two men who helped a tea party-backed candidate unseat U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Zachary Werrell and Gray Delany were the only paid staffers on the campaign team of Republican David Brat, who defeated Cantor in Virginia’s June primary. It was one of the biggest political upsets in congressional history.

The Republican strategists aim to generate a similar level of electricity for Celis, who faces long odds in his race against incumbent Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene in Washington’s 1st Congressional District.

Werrell, who managed Brat’s campaign, will have the same role full-time for Celis. Delany is the new communications manager.

How this political union came about — did Celis recruit them, did Republican officials insist Celis accept them, or something else? — is open to speculation.

“I can’t comment on the circumstances,” Delany said Tuesday.

They signed on after Celis’ underwhelming performance in the Aug. 5 primary. The district stretches from the Canadian border to suburbs in east King County. It takes in towns and farms east of I-5 in Snohomish County.

One of their first challenges — and maybe one of the reasons Werrell and Delany are on board — is to shore up Celis’ credibility among conservative Republicans who view Celis as too moderate and a tool of the party establishment.

Celis made it through the primary on the strength of support from voters in King and Whatcom counties. He finished fourth in Snohomish and Skagit counties, meaning that he was the third-favorite Republican in those counties.

Werrell and Delany intend to rework the playbook, recasting Celis as a candidate focused on trimming the federal deficit, rewriting the federal health care law and tying DelBene to the policies of President Barack Obama.

“Suzan DelBene represents the status quo,” Delany said. “Pedro is an innovator, a breath of fresh air.”

Listening to Watergate

A new book by John Dean digs deeper into the machinations that felled an American president 40 years ago and left an imprint on the practice of politics today.

Dean traces the political scandal from the Watergate office-building break-in to Richard M. Nixon’s resignation with the aid of 600 secretly recorded conversations that previously had only been listened to by those at the National Archives.

Dean got them transcribed for “The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It,” arguably the most complete narrative. It tells how a smart, savvy man with a proven history of political resilience let a bungled burglary destroy his presidency.

“People in Washington (D.C.) throw Watergate around and really don’t have a clue about it,” Dean said in a phone interview. He was the White House lawyer whose Senate testimony helped force out Nixon. “This will tell them. It fills the gaps. To me, there is no unanswered question about Watergate.”

For some there is still one gap — who was responsible for erasing 18-1/2 minutes of conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, three days after the break-in.

Dean offers a short list of suspects. But at this point it doesn’t seem necessary because the subject matter is crystal clear, given all the conversations those two would have in the ensuing months.

“I have concluded that, in the end, while there is no absolute proof about who did it, there really is no mystery at all about what was erased,” Dean writes in the book. “And then who did it is not as important as what was erased.”

Dean’s hands aren’t clean, and in May 1973 he informed Nixon of cascading events which threatened to envelop the president in a political crisis.

His reward? Nixon began trying to lay the blame on Dean and use his counsel as a shield against the unceasing bombardment of revelations that eventually collapsed his presidency.

Dean knew Nixon’s motives then and had them reconfirmed by what he heard on the additional tapes. There’s no anger.

“Not at all,” he said. “I know how the story ended. I just let the tapes tell the tale.”

John Dean will discuss his book Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. at the University Book Store in Seattle. For information, call 800-335-7323.

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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