For very different reasons, Donald Trump and Randy Dorn are poised to alter the dynamics of this year’s race for governor in Washington.
Trump’s effect would derive from his position as the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president and the cascading consequences of his words and actions.
Dorn’s impact would come from entering the race as an independent candidate and coercing Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and leading Republican challenger Bill Bryant into rigorous debate on how to pay for public schools. That’s been Dorn’s focus the last few years as chief of the state’s public school system.
At this moment, Trump is a clear and present factor. Polling shows his ideas, idioms and insults are a turn-off to many self-described independent voters and those are the very voters Bryant needs to lock up to have any chance of pulling off an upset.
Strategists in the state Democratic Party and Inslee campaign know this. That’s why they’re obsessed with getting Bryant to say if he will vote for Trump in the state’s presidential primary now under way and in the general election as well.
“Now, not only do Washington state Republicans refuse to reject their nominee… my opponent has refused to rule out voting for Donald Trump,” reads a May 4 fund-raising letter from Inslee.
The state party has even set up a website to track Bryant’s aversions to answering those questions.
“Voters deserve to know his position,” said Democratic Party spokesman Jamal Raad. “Who you support for president is a powerful indication of where you stand on the major issues facing our state and nation.”
Bryant, who never envisioned Trump would emerge as the front-runner, is steadfast in his refusal to reply to inquiries of his presidential preferences. He contends the presidential race is in its own orbit and the battle for governor won’t be pulled into it.
“You guys in the media want to talk about Trump all the time,” Bryant said. “If (Jay Inslee) wants to run against Trump, that’s fine. At the end of the day he’s running against me and he’s going to have to run on his record.”
Meanwhile, Dorn hovers on the sideline, sounding like he’s a sure bet to get in the race when candidates file next week.
He started talking this way after deciding not to run again for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Such a campaign, he says, would be the best vehicle to focus the race for governor on funding public schools adequately and in line with the state constitution.
Dorn insists he’s got a plan while Inslee and Bryant do not. And he doesn’t mind telling you.
“If they come up with a plan by filing, I’m out,” he said. “If I don’t do this, I don’t think anything is going to change. In fact it might get much worse.”
If Dorn runs, he’s likely to siphon more votes away from Bryant than from Inslee, according to a recent Elway Poll. But his entry could also provide Bryant a benefit by forcing the campaign conversation to something other than his views on Trump.
“I guarantee you I will be by far the most interesting candidate,” he boasted in a very Trump-like fashion.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @dospueblos