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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Herrera Beutler for governor?

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: May 7, 2023, 6:02am

The first question is the most fundamental: Can a Republican win a gubernatorial race in Washington?

As we ponder that, as we consider the apparent opening provided by Jay Inslee’s decision to not seek a fourth term, as we guffaw at the response from the state Republican Party, and as we speculate about the political future of Jaime Herrera Beutler … well, the issues become a little more complicated. Therefore, they become more interesting. Such is the intrigue of politics.

So, we shall examine these in reverse order. Because the last might be the most fascinating — and the most difficult to answer. And when it comes to difficult political questions about this or any other region, we often turn to David Nierenberg.

Nierenberg is a prolific political fundraiser, often for Republicans and sometimes for Democrats; he is more interested in good government that ideological dogma. Because of that, it is not incongruous that he worked on behalf of Herrera Beutler, a Republican, during her 12 years in Congress and now is a major supporter of her successor, Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez.

So when Nierenberg spoke recently with Herrera Beutler about running for governor— at the urging of Herrera Beutler’s father — he offered some insight.

“I said she’s the only kind of Republican I would support, given the current state of the national party,” he told me in a phone interview.

That’s because Herrera Beutler is a moderate Republican. She’s no fan of Donald Trump — even though she said she voted for him in 2020 — and she was one of 10 House Republicans to vote in favor of his second impeachment. That earned her an election defeat — proving that conscience and integrity have no place in the modern Republican Party.

If Herrera Beutler does set her sights on statewide office, Nierenberg sees a problem in her long-held anti-abortion stance. It’s not a problem of character or belief, but a problem of electability in deep blue Washington at a time when abortion rights are at the center of American politics.

“In light of the Dobbs decision,” Nierenberg said, “she needs to make clear that this is a personal view rather than a policy view.” Otherwise? “She surely would lose a gubernatorial election by 20 points.”

Nierenberg did not share Herrera Beutler’s response to this viewpoint. Herrera Beutler did not return a message asking for a response.

But the issue will hang over any Republican who makes it to the general election for statewide office in Washington. So will the defiled Republican brand.

That was evident after Inslee announced Monday that he is not running for a fourth term. Within hours, Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, released a statement that included, “It’s time to turn the page on the disastrous Inslee era … For over a decade, Governor Inslee has taken our state in the wrong direction.”

Now, Heimlich probably believes that; many Republicans probably believe that; some Democrats probably believe that. But it seems that after a governor has kicked your tail in three statewide elections, it’s probably not a good idea to suggest he has been a disaster. Clearly a lot of voters support him.

Republicans could have essentially said, “Inslee has served the state faithfully for three terms, but somebody from our party can do better if you give us a chance.” Instead, they could not avoid the toxicity that has become increasingly ingrained in the Republican Party. That toxicity tends to poison their candidates at the ballot box; there is a reason Washington currently has no Republicans in statewide office.

As Nierenberg said: “A challenge of any Republican in the Northwest is to contrast their integrity with the integrity of the Trumpists because Donald Trump is such an inveterate liar.” And that leaves Herrera Beutler with a narrow political path: “Nothing about her style of Republicanism is in favor right now.”

Whether Herrera Beutler thinks she can change the tastes of Washington voters remains to be seen.