Nestled here in the top left-hand corner of the (contiguous) country, Washington state mostly has been shunted aside when it comes to hardcore presidential politicking.
That’s especially true among Democrats, who know that the tint of the Evergreen State is decidedly blue and, thus, take it for granted that Seattle’s legion of liberal voters will reliably turn out at the polls. It didn’t help the state’s profile that the Democratic presidential primary, held in late May and didn’t even count for delegate-winning, was pretty much an afterthought.
But now that the Legislature has wisely moved up the 2020 primary to March and the Washington State Democratic Party has decided to make the primary results actually mean something in delegate disbursement, the state is starting to feel as if it might have a say for once in choosing the next Democratic presidential nominee. (President Trump, of course, is expecting no real primary competition and won’t face debates — except maybe with Twitter trolls.)
Because of our sudden relevance, Tina Podlodowski, the chair of Washington State Democrats, is lobbying the Democratic National Committee hard to bring a presidential debate to the state. Podlodowski, on Monday, started spreading an online petition for Washingtonians to express their support for the having the vast assemblage of Democratic hopefuls, including native son Jay Inslee, appear on stage in … Seattle.
She had us until that last detail.
Why must Seattle be the default site? Sure, it’s by far the state’s most populace metropolis, home to business behemoths such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing, and a major media market that’s bluer than a Miles Davis riff.
But choosing that progressive bastion as a debate site is too easy, fish-in-a-barrel easy. It’s preaching to the choir. It’s playing with house money.
Seattle is a giant echo chamber of progressive thinking, in which Inslee himself is considered by some as too much a centrist, despite his climate-change focus, for many on the left’s tastes. Podlodowski, in a news release on Monday announcing the petition, said holding a debate there makes sense, given that it has a “national reputation for innovation and leadership on issues like marriage equality, clean energy and minimum wage. We are often the first adopters of ideas that sweep the nation…”
Certainly, we are all for having Washington state get some national attention – and agree it would motivate voters of all persuasions to pay attention and cast their ballots in the general election. Participation is key in a democracy.
It’s just the proposed venue (Seattle’s Paramount Theatre) that’s all wrong.
May we suggest that the better site — more of a challenge, a higher bar to clear — for a Democratic debate would be … wait for it … Yakima?
We kid you not. (OK, maybe a little.)
What better proving ground is there for Democratic hopefuls than to debate the issues deep in the heart of one of the reddest sectors of the state? It would be a great prep for the eventual nominee, heading into what figures to be a bruising battle against President Trump in America’s heartland.
Of course, debate rules would require a heavy focus on question pertinent to Yakimans — farm subsidies and international tariffs; economic struggles of low-income workers; the plight of seasonal workers; the hopes of first-generation students wondering how to afford college. Those would be more universal than fielding queries from Seattleites complaining about high rents.
These are, after all, issues that the eventual nominee must address in battleground states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. — and it would hone her or his skills in fashioning a message that would appeal to swing voters who opted for President Trump in 2016.
What’s in it for Democrats? Where’s the upside to staging a debate east of the Cascades? After all, Yakima County is reliably red: it went for Trump over Hillary Clinton, 53 to 40 percent, in 2016 and chose Republican Bill Bryant over Inslee, 55 to 44 percent, in the last gubernatorial race.
For one thing, state Democrats could gain some converts, which might help in down-ballot races. There are, after all, pockets of moderate voters who toggle between party affiliations in these parts. When Bernie Sanders came to Yakima for a rally at the SunDome during the 2016 primary season – the first time any presidential contender has moseyed on out here since 1999 – he drew 8,000 enthusiastic people who listened to his thoughts on immigration reform, minimum wage increases and free college tuition.
We know that even getting the DNC to anoint Seattle with a primary debate may be a longshot – and that having it in red-saturated Yakima something of a wacked out fantasy – but stranger things have happened.
Recall that every election cycle, small-town, no-name diners in Iowa and New Hampshire are transformed into temporary media hubs, with correspondents from “Fox and Friends” and “Anderson Cooper 360” setting up shop and hanging on locals’ every word.
It could happen here.
Why not us?
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis