Could a local man take the state?

Pridemore considers a statewide race

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OLYMPIA — Vancouver Sen. Craig Pridemore acknowledged recently that a sizzling rumor about him is true: He may enter the race for secretary of state.

With a number of prominent statewide positions up for grabs next year, Pridemore wants to keep his options open and see how redistricting will play out before deciding what move to make.

If he enters the race, Pridemore will have to face off with fellow Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, and the leading Republican candidate, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman. Kastama has no reported money raised at this point, and Wyman has raised $350, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

Feeling confident about his chances against Kastama, Pridemore said out-competing Wyman would be his foremost concern. He suspects she has a strong appeal to swing voters.

Even so, Pridemore knows he would have to overcome some larger obstacles to win the election.

Chief among those hurdles is defeating a popular stigma that candidates for statewide office from areas outside of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties stand little chance against their metropolitan competitors.

Pridemore knows the challenge is real for contenders who do not hail from the Puget Sound area.

“The first thing about running statewide is that you don’t want to be running against well-funded, well-established candidates from King County,” he said.

Candidates from Southwest Washington do not frequently enter statewide elections, Pridemore noted. However, he and other seasoned election whizzes, such as Secretary of State Sam Reed, believe it is only a matter of time before someone from Southwest Washington wins an election to statewide office.

“I really, in this day and age, don’t think that it’s a case of where you’re from that makes you a viable candidate for statewide office,” Reed said.

Reed added that there is still plenty of time for Pridemore to enter the 2012 race to fill his position.

He noted there have been a number of candidates from Clark County over the years who looked like they stood a strong chance to win, but lost for identifiable reasons.

“I know each of them,” Reed said. “I know about their races. I think there are very good explanations for why they didn’t win.”

Reed pointed to Clark County native Denny Heck, who lost the election for superintendent of public instruction in 1988. Heck — who has filed for a 2012 congressional run — was the strongest candidate in his 1988 race, Reed said. However, he made enemies of his opponents, and that led to his downfall.

“(Heck) grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory,” Reed said. “He won the primary huge. It was like he should have almost walked into the general (election) and won.”

Running a successful statewide campaign from somewhere other than the Puget Sound area isn’t impossible, Reed said. It does mean those candidates have to work hard to connect with voters in the Seattle metropolitan area.

“If you’re from Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham or something like that, you’re going to have to make sure you work the heck out of some of these metropolitan areas,” he said.

Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, from Okanogan County, did just that in his victorious 2008 election bid.

Goldmark gained support and name recognition in the Puget Sound area during his unsuccessful run for Congress in 2006 against Cathy McMorris Rodgers. From there, he started his campaign for lands commissioner more than a year ahead of time, engaging voters early.

“As a candidate, you have to look where the voters are,” Goldmark said. “You need to have a relevant, strong message that resonates with the voters. I don’t think there’s anything more important than that.”

With that approach, Goldmark said, a candidate from Southwest Washington could run a successful statewide campaign.

There are still limits, though.

The population of Clark County — less than half a million of the state’s 6.7 million people — plays a major role in the county’s struggle to get a candidate into statewide office, Heck said. The county is also outside the Seattle-area mainstream media market.

Heck agrees, though, that it is only a matter of time before someone from Southwest Washington is elected to a major statewide position.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” he said. “It’s going to happen someday.”

John Wyble, a political consultant who has worked for the past 25 years on prominent campaigns for the likes of Maria Cantwell and Jay Inslee, thinks Pridemore would stand a good chance of winning secretary of state.

Pridemore has some name recognition from his leadership roles on Senate committees and his former position as Clark County commissioner, Wyble said, though the key for candidates from outside the Puget Sound area is less name recognition than running on ideas and issues. “Once you make your campaign bigger than yourself, people get excited about (it),” he said.

Pridemore knows name recognition could still be a challenge for him on the statewide level; to overcome that, Pridemore said he would run a moderate campaign to appeal to a broad cross section of voters.

Until he decides whether to commit to the secretary of state race, the Democratic lawmaker said he will gear up for another Senate run. Pridemore said he expects to decide by late fall.