‘It’s time to kick down the governor’s door,’ Dave Reichert hopes early GOP endorsement leads to spot on WA ballot
On Saturday former Congressman Dave Reichert was firing up a crowd of fellow Republicans at Kamiakin Middle School in Kirkland, wearing his old leather King County Sheriff's jacket.
“There’s a time to negotiate and a time to kick the door down. It’s time to kick down the governor’s door,” said Reichert, who’s running for the state’s highest office this year, a task he compares to his time leading SWAT teams.
The crowd cheered at the action movie imagery, perhaps channeling some of their frustration at Republicans being completely shut out of all statewide offices in Washington. Reichert hopes to break that trend.
Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, will leave office after his third term ends next January, and Reichert hopes to become the first Republican governor in this deep blue state since the 1980s. But he’s facing a host of challengers from both sides of the aisle this primary season.
Winning this November as a Republican in a blue state where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 20 percentage points will require finding as many votes as possible from voters in the middle. But first, Reichert needs to win over the Republican Party faithful, which is why he was in Kirkland for the GOP event.
Republicans were in Kirkland for a legislative district caucus, to pick 40 delegates for the GOP state convention in Spokane. This year up to 2,500 delegates to the state convention will endorse candidates running for the U.S. Senate and all 10 House races, as well as candidates for statewide offices, including governor.
That’s new. The Washington State Republican Party normally waits to endorse until after the August primary election, when voters have their say in thinning out the field of candidates down to the “top two.” But this year, the party will make endorsements in April, during the state Republican convention.
Party officials tell KUOW the move was provoked by Washington’s top two primary system, where only the leading pair of vote-getting candidates move on to the general election, regardless of political party. Sometimes that can mean no Republican candidate makes it on the general election ballot in significant races.
“We've been shut out with no Republican on the ballot for some statewide offices in recent elections, which is very frustrating,” said Paul Hess, the rules chair for the Republican state convention. In 2022, for example, no Republican appeared on the general election ballot in the race for secretary of state.
The winner, Steve Hobbs became the first Democratic secretary of state since 1965. Gov. Inslee originally appointed Hobbs to the position in 2021 when Kim Wyman, a Republican, vacated the position.
This year, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, is leading in the polls among Democrats in the race for governor. But another well-known Democrat, Mark Mullet, also has a chance to make it through to the general election, which would be another nightmare scenario for Republicans. This year, Republicans are hoping to fend off that possibility and also give their candidates a head start.
Republican party officials tell KUOW that early endorsements would help unleash a flood of campaign donations and support much sooner than in prior election years. That would mean, in theory, that at least one Republican candidate could make it through to compete in November.
“The goal is for the party to come out of that convention in Spokane, with a single candidate for each elective office,” said Dale Fonk, chair of the 45th District Republicans in King County.
The shift changes the equation this year for candidates including Dave Reichert. Not only will he face a formidable field of Democrats including State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. But he also has to worry about being outflanked at the state convention by fellow Republican Semi Bird, a former Richland School Board member who has accused Reichert of not being conservative enough.
For its part, the Washington State Democratic Party doesn’t make endorsements, although party groups from local legislative districts or counties typically do. But the head of the organization did not mince words about what she thinks of the change Republicans plan to make this year by moving up endorsements to April.
“No matter who gets the nod, we know they’ll double down on Donald Trump’s dangerous MAGA agenda: rip away reproductive healthcare, damage our democracy, and give the very richest Americans yet another Trump tax cut,” Washington State Democratic Party Chair Shasti Conrad told KUOW in a written statement.
If the GOP plan works as intended — and the endorsed candidates go on to become the nominees after the August primary — the change would signal a power shift away from regular voters in favor of the dedicated grassroots activists who run to become statewide delegates.
But it’s not clear yet whether those delegates will be inclined to nominate MAGA conservatives like Semi Bird, or candidates like Dave Reichert, who told KUOW he believes his politics are more “in the middle.”
“It's just the old Dragnet detective show. It's ‘just the facts, ma'am.’ And I think people are hungry for somebody who's not going off the deep end one way or another, but just looking for the facts,” Reichert said.
The Republican state convention runs April 18-20 in Spokane.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was amended on Wednesday, Feb. 7, to clarify that Bob Ferguson is leading in the polls among Democrats in the race for governor.