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News / Clark County News

Democrats want to claim middle class

Delegates back Heck, Murray in mid-term elections

By Kathie Durbin
Published: June 27, 2010, 12:00am
4 Photos
Sen. Patty Murray wore her trademark tennis shoes as she accepted her party's nomination for a fourth Senate term Saturday at the state Democratic Convention at the Clark County Event Center.
Sen. Patty Murray wore her trademark tennis shoes as she accepted her party's nomination for a fourth Senate term Saturday at the state Democratic Convention at the Clark County Event Center. At top, Lorretta Thomas of Clark County was among several hundred delegates cheering congressional candidate Denny Heck Saturday as he addressed the convention. Photo Gallery

Delegates to the Washington State Democratic Convention on Saturday cheered U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Democrats in Congress, applauded the call to create clean-energy jobs, differed on whether to endorse a marijuana legalization initiative, nominated two of their own in this year’s congressional races — and managed to squeeze in most of the World Cup match between the U.S. and Ghana during their lunch break.

A total of 714 voting delegates attended the convention proper at the Clark County Events Center, a cavernous venue that left plenty of empty space around the folding chairs. In contrast, nearly 1,200 delegates attended the state GOP convention at the Hilton Vancouver Washington two weeks ago.

Two messages dominated the day: Democrats are the party that represents the middle class, and Americans can’t afford to turn back the clock to 2008.

“Voters are anxious and confused,” said Washington Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz. “Americans are looking for answers. I truly believe Americans are trying to decide which party cares about the middle class.”

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“We cannot go backward,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver. “The last time it happened, we had a young, charismatic president,” Baird said, invoking 1994, when six of Washington’s then eight congressional seats shifted from Democrats to Republicans midway through President Clinton’s first term.

“We took tough votes. We created 22 million new jobs.” But Democrats paid for those votes at the polls in the 1994 midterms, he said.

Baird, who was attending his final state convention as the 3rd District’s representative, noted that Southwest Washington continues to suffer from double-digit unemployment. Addressing that jobless rate must be his successor’s top priority, he said.

“Every day, people are waking up and asking, ‘How can I pay my mortgage?’ ” Baird said. “We as Democrats can never forget that. We should build up people, not tear down government.”

Denny Heck, to no one’s surprise, won the party’s nomination in the open 3rd District race. The Olympia entrepreneur took the stage in mid-afternoon with an entourage of sign-toting supporters. He gave a fervent speech that recalled his early years growing up in a working-class family in the Lake Shore neighborhood. He and his three siblings were all able to go to college and live the American dream, he said.

“Can we look young people in the eye and tell them the same will be true for them?” Heck asked.

He promised “I will get up every day and fight for the economy of Southwest Washington.”

The name of Olympia peace activist Cheryl Crist, a Democrat who has been endorsed by the party’s Progressive Caucus, was not placed in nomination.

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The convention also endorsed Democrat Suzan DelBene, who is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District.

Building a ladder

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine delivered a feisty speech in which he invited Republicans to pin their 2010 congressional campaigns on repeal of the health reform bill.

“Let that be the battle,” Kaine said. “Bring out the bumper stickers that say, ‘Bring back pre-existing conditions.’ “

Kaine called the health insurance reform bill that Democrats passed this year an addition to the party’s enduring legacy, in the same category as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Civil Rights Act.

The difference, he said, is that on those landmark bills, there were at least a few Republican votes. This time, he said, “the Republicans would not lift a finger. We put this one up on the mantel by ourselves.”

Kaine, the former governor of Virginia, said he’s amused when he sees Tea Party signs “saying some version of ‘We need to take the country back.’ I automatically think, ‘Take it back from whom?’ After what we just came out of? A lost decade in American life?”

After President Barack Obama’s election, Kaine said, “We were in a ditch and we had to build a ladder.

“The issue Democrats face in the midterms is, ‘Do we want to keep climbing or do we want to put it back in the hands of the guys who put us in the ditch in the first place?’ ”

Murray, wearing jeans and her trademark tennis shoes and accompanied by her own parade of supporters, delivered her second speech to the convention in as many days. She was introduced by Seattle fifth-grader Marcellus Owen. He told Murray a sad story about his mother, who died when he was 7 after she became ill and lost her job and health insurance. The boy became Murray’s cause celebre during her campaign for passage of health care reform.

“I am going to need your help this year more than ever before,” Murray told the delegates, acknowledging the tough challenge she faces in her race for a fourth term. Former two-time gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi and Tea Party Republican Clint Didier, a former NFL player, are the leading Republicans running in the August top two primary for the chance to challenge her in the fall.

Though Murray refrained from mentioning Rossi by name in her stump speech, she took a shot at the commercial real estate investor Saturday. “Unlike some others who are giving lectures on how to profit from foreclosure,” she said, she is fighting to help people keep their homes and get mortgage counseling.

In a press conference after her speech, Murray was asked her reaction to a new Rasmussen poll showing that if she and Rossi faced each other in an election today, each would get 46 percent of the vote.

Murray waved off the poll results. “I have been told I’m vulnerable every time I’ve run for reelection,” she said.

Asked whether she’d rather face Rossi or Didier, she said, “I so don’t worry about that. They have a right in this great democracy to tell people what they believe in. I’ll tell people what I believe in.”

Support for Murray

Former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard was in the group rallying around Murray outside the convention hall.

“I’m going to do everything I can possibly do to help Murray get elected, ” Pollard said. “It’s important that people understand that what they see in Vancouver, she has helped make happen, from waterfront development to transportation projects. More important is that she cares about veterans. That is very high on my list.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523; kathie.durbin@columbian.com.