Postman on Politics
Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.
April 7, 2008 4:17 PM
Posted by David Postman
I went to Auburn this morning hear Gov. Chris Gregoire kick off her re-election campaign. That’s her hometown. If you didn’t know that, you’d find out on the way into town: it’s proudly proclaimed on the city limit signs.
Her first stop was the Rainbow Cafe, where Gregoire’s mother worked when the governor-to-be was growing up as the only child of a single mom.
The Rainbow is made for these sorts of events. It’s on Main Street, which hasn’t been the main street for decades. The paint behind the neon sign is tired. The diner has been here for 75, 80 or more years, depending on which of the old-timers holding up an the diner counter you choose to believe. You know those guys - complaining about the coffee as they drink their sixth cup, proposing marriage to the waitress and telling Rainbow owner Mike Fawcett to get a real job. (He already has two. He's a Seattle fireman and owns the restaurant with his wife, Shelley.)
“This used to be the only place to come. On Friday nights you couldn’t get in the door,” said Hoppy, the 78-year-old at the counter who figured if that name was good enough to be embroidered on his Auburn Chevrolet windbreaker, it was good enough for The Seattle Times.
The Rainbow has such good diner-cred that a videographer for the Gregoire campaign patrolled through the morning regulars, getting close-ups of Hoppy and his pals Dick Kammeyel and Ken Bradford, the Fawcetts and their daughter, Morgyn, as well as of the milkshake machine and a plate full of hot bacon and eggs.
Kammeyel was there because he’s there every morning. He knew Gregoire’s mother when she cooked at the Rainbow and was excited to see the governor come in.
“You’ll see, she’ll not only recognize me she’ll give me a big, old hug,” he said.
Clearly, this was a perfect place for Gregoire to begin her second campaign for governor and steer away from what she thought she did wrong in 2004 that put her in a dead-heat with Republican Dino Rossi.
“I don't think in the end voters ever really got to know Chris Gregoire,” Gregoire said about herself after the record-close ’04 election.
“People want to know that they can have a governor who is good on policy and is competent. But they also want to know that they can have a governor that they can relate to. I’m a mom. I’m a spouse. I’m a breast-cancer survivor. I came from very humble beginnings. I’m the first in my family to have gone to college. And I’ll bet most people don’t know much of any of that today.”
In the Rainbow this morning, we all turned as the windows of the diner were suddenly filled by the huge, bio-diesel Gregoire for Governor bus lumbering down Main Street. But it didn’t stop out front. Gregoire didn’t get out and jog into the diner to shake hands and hug old-timers.
The bus pulled around back. Gregoire came in a back door into a room filled with her staffers, campaign supporters and reporters. There were no plans to make an appearance in the Rainbow proper.
That seemed like a lost opportunity. And not just a photo opportunity, either. Gregoire needed to make her kickoff about her, about her character and personality and family and sense of community. Those are all the things she said voters didn’t get from her last time.
Yes, she has to talk about her accomplishments as governor. Certainly, after four years that’s part of the campaign launch. But maybe day two, or the second half of her first speech. But in the back room of the cafe, and later at an Auburn business where the audience was heavily seeded with union members, Gregoire seemed almost uncomfortable talking about herself, and over eager to get into the hard shots at Rossi.
Here’s how she opened her speech - and her re-election - at Zones Inc.
“This is a very, very important election for us here in this state and across the nation. As we begin to think about our country, we’re at a real crossroads and we’ve got a real choice to make. The fact of the matter is, if you want a governor in this Washington who will be an echo chamber for the federal policies and the Bush administration in the other Washington, I am not your candidate.”
“I am not your candidate” doesn’t strike me as a great opener. She did mention that she was raised by a single mom and talked about sitting on a stool in the kitchen of the Rainbow and watching her mother work.
She said they faced hard times. But she didn’t describe what that meant. Did it mean she didn’t get new clothes for school when other kids did? Was the house heated? Did they put water in the soup and Hamburger Helper into the ground beef?
God knows I don’t want to start thinking like an editor. But I can imagine what one of them would say: Don’t just tell us you had hard times, describe what life was like. This isn't to be maudlin or overly-dramatic. But to flesh out a life that too few voters know.
My favorite part of the speech was where Gregoire said she went to college thinking she’d be a pharmacist because the local Auburn druggist - impressed by the young Christine O’Grady - had convinced her that even that lofty perch could be hers. And that was the path, she said, “until I met science.”
That sounds all so real.
Gregoire said she tells her daughters, “We don’t just live in any old state, we live in the great state of Washington.” That to me sounded more like a proposed state slogan rejected right before “Say WA” more than it does something you’d say to your kids. (Of course I may be jaded on this by having two boys who have been merciless about any attempt by me to tell them anything inspirational.)
Gregoire delivered the speech well. She appeared committed to her agenda, and the quickness with which she drew a target on Rossi showed she would have her dukes up for any Republican shots. She showed a mastery of issues.
She played on Barack Obama’s message of hope by saying that she was the optimistic candidate who could bring hope to Washington while Rossi was all about being negative. (Meanwhile, Rossi has played on Obama’s message of change, saying that he would represent a sea-change after six terms of Democratic governors.)
But as her kick-off tour continues and the campaign unfolds, I think Gregoire needs to look for more Rainbow Diners. And next time she should come in the front door and sit a spell.
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