SEATTLE — Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna plans to join a private law firm and says chances are low he’ll run again for governor in four years, but he isn’t ruling out an eventual return as a candidate.
While he’ll concentrate on his legal work, McKenna said he intends to stay involved in politics and public policy, including an effort to reshape the brand of the national Republican Party.
McKenna largely dropped out of the media spotlight after his loss to Democrat Jay Inslee, declining to face reporter questions after his Nov. 9 concession, but has been conducting a round of media interviews in recent days.
In an interview with The Seattle Times, McKenna blamed his defeat largely on the national Democratic wave that accompanied President Obama’s re-election, sweeping aside every statewide Republican candidate in Washington with the exception of new Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
But McKenna acknowledged that both his campaign and the national Republican Party made errors.
He criticized the decision of the national Republicans and the Mitt Romney campaign to write off Washington in the presidential and congressional races.
“When millions of dollars are raised here for a presidential candidate and not one dime comes back here to support that candidate or other federal candidates — that’s noticeably missing,” McKenna said.
That lack of support gave Democrats an advantage in voter turnout, McKenna said. The Obama campaign knew it would win Washington but still spent money and had staff here, benefiting Democratic candidates all down the ballot.
McKenna also acknowledged both national Republicans and his campaign were outmatched by the Democrats’ superior polling and voter-turnout data.
“Our data was not as good as it should have been,” he said.
The data deficit was made glaringly obvious in the days after the election, when McKenna and his aides continued to insist their polling showed he’d surpass Inslee as later votes were counted. The big surge they predicted never emerged. In the end, while McKenna outperformed Romney in the state, he still lost by nearly 95,000 votes.
McKenna also grudgingly credited Inslee for better early TV ads, admitting his own initial ad featuring his family had been too frenetic and didn’t connect with voters.
McKenna and his campaign manager, Randy Pepple, attributed Inslee’s margin of victory almost entirely to the city of Seattle, where McKenna attracted only 21 percent of the vote.
But McKenna also underperformed in the crucial Eastside suburbs, including his hometown of Bellevue.
The Republican Party’s shattering losses in 2012 have led to soul searching by GOP leaders across the country.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has announced an effort to study the reasons for the party’s failure and recommend a path forward.
McKenna said he’s been asked to participate in that effort and will push the national GOP to become more appealing to voters in states like Washington.
“The party cannot be the party just of deep-red states from the South. It has to be a party that works in states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon,” he said.
The GOP’s losing streak has grown epic in Washington: A Republican hasn’t won a governor’s race here since 1980, making it the party’s longest-running gubernatorial drought in the nation.
As part of the Republican National Committee effort, McKenna said he’ll host a Priebus visit to Washington state in the next month or so to hear concerns from state Republican leaders.
The debate for Republicans nationally has centered on whether the party needs better marketing or an actual softening in its positions on controversial issues such as immigration, gay rights and abortion.
McKenna said he thinks the Republican Party should become “more tolerant of libertarian views on those issues.”
But he displayed a trace of irritation that Democrats in Washington have continued to use those “emotional hot buttons” effectively against Republicans.
“It works for them because they don’t want to talk about fiscal issues or failures in education,” he said.
McKenna offered a hint at one strategy to bolster Republicans in Washington state, saying he’s been in talks with business groups and other allies to create a new umbrella organization that would coordinate political efforts.
He wouldn’t reveal details but said the group would help like-minded organizations “work together year round” and lay the groundwork to elect business-friendly candidates “instead of just waiting until election year.”
McKenna said the group won’t exist to promote his own political profile, like the short-lived nonprofit Forward Washington did for Republican Dino Rossi in between his 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial campaigns.
McKenna said he’ll join a private law firm, likely focusing on regulatory matters and digital privacy concerns. He’s got kids headed to college, and the youngest of his four children is 13. He sounded in no rush to run for office again.
“Never say never,” McKenna said. “But I am only 50 and if I want to run for office again in the future I am not limited by 2016 — or even 2020.”