Politically, the local Republican and Democratic parties may not agree on much, but those in charge say their organizations are energized for the general election Nov. 6.
“We have a lot of races that are critical locally, statewide and nationally,” Kittitas County Republican Party Chairwoman Marlene Pfeifer said. Pfeifer called the upcoming presidential contest a big focus, but said the local Republican party also is paying especially close attention to Washington’s gubernatorial race this year.
The governor race pits former congressman and Democrat Jay Inslee against Republican State Attorney General Rob McKenna. It’s one of the races Kittitas County Democrats’ Chairwoman Theresa Petrey says her party is following closely, too. Petrey said, in addition to Inslee, local Democrats are focusing on the re-election of President Barack Obama, the effort to elect congressional candidate Karen Porterfield and the campaign of Moses Lake businessman Kaj Selmann.
“That candidacy of Kaj Selmann has generated a lot of excitement around the district,” she said.
Petrey said having a qualified, credible House candidate from Grant County has helped excite the Democratic minority and spurred party and infrastructure building efforts. She was astounded when more than 300 people turned out for a recent Obama rally in Grant County, where Petrey said Democrats have not been as active in past years.
“It feels good to be from the minority party and to see things happen in the party,” Petrey said. “That makes people feel good about being a Democrat.”
Petrey said not having a candidate running for office at the county level has made for an unusual election season but hasn’t hurt the party’s enthusiasm. She thinks Democrats are interested in both of the seats up for grabs on the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners, and says she’s seen passionate support for all four of the candidates from Democrats in the area. Petrey said, for the first time in a long time, constituents in the Upper County feel that their voice will be heard in the courthouse, regardless of who wins the race for the District 2 commissioner seat.
The Kittitas County Republican Party has endorsed County Commissioner Paul Jewell in his re-election campaign against Republican Catherine Clerf in District 1 and Gary Berndt, a Republican, for the seat representing District 2. Berndt is running against Paula Thompson, an independent. Pfeifer said there are stark differences between the two, and the party favors Berndt. Organization
With so many good candidates on the Republican ticket, Pfeifer said choosing where to focus the local party’s support has become the biggest challenge this election season.
“I think people are more excited this year,” Pfeifer said. She said her party feels like it has a better chance at winning national-level races and having its candidate for governor elected than it did in 2008. Dino Rossi’s 2004 gubernatorial campaign was the last time Republicans felt like they could win the governor’s office, Pfeifer said.
That excitement has kept the local Republican party busy. Volunteers have been canvassing. The party operates a phone bank every Wednesday, and plans to begin making calls daily starting next week. In addition to regular meetings, the Kittitas County Republican Party has hosted a number of forums with candidates, and McKenna is scheduled to speak Nov. 1.
“I think, the closer it gets, we’ll have more and more candidates coming kind of spur of the moment,” Pfeifer said.
Local Democrats have been out and about, too. The party has a phone bank in operation three days each week and organizes sign waving events. Central Washington University political science professor Todd Schaefer spoke Tuesday about the electoral college, and the party will host an election night party and a party in support of the state’s referendum on same sex marriage.
Petrey said the atmosphere in the local Democratic party is calmer than when Obama first ran for office in 2008. But the party remains energized and its members are, perhaps, even more committed. Petrey’s spoken with several older members of the county’s Democratic party who say this is the most important election they’ve seen in their lifetime.
“That’s pretty important when a 90-year-old tells you this is the most important election of her voting life,” Petrey said.