In the early 1990s, Joe King’s name appeared almost daily in the state’s newspapers.
His face could be seen splashed across the evening news.
He was a powerful politician, the speaker of the state House.
But when the Southwest Washington resident decided to run for governor, an early poll showed his name was recognized by a mere 2 percent of the voters.
“That was a shock to me,” said King, who lost his bid for governor.
Some call it the Southwest Washington curse: the inability to get elected to a statewide position with a Clark County ZIP code.
Jim Moeller, a longtime state representative from Vancouver, hopes to break the curse. He is giving up his seat as speaker pro tempore of the House to run for liuetenant governor.
“His chances are low to none,” Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., said matter-of-factly.
If an issue arises that no one could prepare for, Moore said, that could catapult Moeller to the top.
“That could be a terrorist attack. We could get the giant earthquake. The candidate comes out and exhibits a lot of leadership (and could take the lead),” Moore said.
Linda Smith was a well-known Republican politician, practically a household name, in the late 1990s when she launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate against Patty Murray.
“She had a lot going for her,” Moore said. “She had a feisty personality, people knew who she was … And she couldn’t make it.”
Carolyn Long, with the school of politics, philosophy and public affairs at Washington State University Vancouver, agrees that Moeller will have to overcome the geography challenge. “It’s difficult to win a statewide election if you’re not in the Seattle area, just because of the total number of votes presented there. … Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a shot at winning, but it’s difficult given he’s not in the most populous area in the state,” Long said.
Dave Ammons, who covered Olympia as a reporter for the Associated Press for 37 years and currently works in the secretary of state’s office, said geography makes it difficult, but it’s also a challenge since the region is in a different media market from most of the state.
Moeller has a reputation for being a skilled and diplomatic parliamentarian, Ammons said, which is part of the duties of a lieutenant governor.
But it’s likely a reputation that doesn’t extend outside of the state capitol.
“Jim is good at presiding, he has solid legislation under his belt. He’s outwardly gay, I don’t know if that would pick him up a block of votes in Seattle or other places, but he still has to get known by a lot of people outside of Clark County,” Ammons said.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat, has held the seat since 1996 and is the longest-serving lieutenant governor in the nation. Owen has not decided yet whether he will seek re-election in 2016.
Moeller joins a growing field of candidates vying for the seat. State Sens. Karen Fraiser, D-Olympia, and Cyrus Habib, D-Seattle, are also running for the seat. A Republican, Javier Figueroa, has also declared for the position.
The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and acts as governor when the state’s top official is unable to do so.
Moeller said he plans to run as the most left-leaning candidate.
“My strategy is to be the Bernie Sanders of Washington state,” Moeller said.
His platform includes increasing the statewide minimum wage to $15, pushing for stricter gun regulations and passing a capital gains tax to help fund the state’s education system.
Somebody has to end the curse.
“Might as well be me,” Moeller said.