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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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June 10, 2008 4:47 PM

Primary ballot allows candidates to re-brand

Posted by David Postman

There is much talk this year - the eighth of an increasingly unpopular president - of damage done to the “Republican brand.” John McCain’s campaign manager says the political environment for Republicans is “one of the worst in our party’s history.” And retiring Virginia Congressman Tom Davis told E.J. Dionne recently that if Republicans "were dog food, they'd take us off the shelf and put us in a landfill."

What’s a Republican to do? Re-brand of course. On Washington’s 2008 primary and general election ballots, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi will be identified as a member of the “G.O.P. Party.”

That’s an abbreviation for the Grand Old Party, the nickname the Republicans picked up in the 1870s. “GOP” is used in newspapers and political blogs. But until now it hasn’t served as an official party designation on an election ballot.

But if Kentucky Fried Chicken can become KFC, why can’t Republicans become the GOP in a state where a Republican hasn’t been elected governor since long before diners tired of fried Kentucky poultry parts and some sort of breakfast xenophobia turned the International House of Pancakes into IHOP?

This year it can. The state’s new top-two primary allows candidates to state their party preference when they filed for office last week. And they could say anything they wanted as long as it wasn’t profane, though they were urged by Secretary of State Sam Reed not to engage in any “funny business.” (Reed has said, “Voting is cool,” but, apparently, not funny.)

Most Republican candidates, including three incumbent Republican statewide officials, listed their party preference as “Republican.

But Rossi is carrying forward with a re-branding effort began four years ago during his first run against Democrat Chris Gregoire. The tag lines on his TV commercials said “Rossi for governor, GOP,” as do his lawn signs. Campaign spokeswoman Jill Strait said:

We have found that voters know what GOP means and we spent millions of dollars saying GOP on the last campaign, so we decided to stick with it.

Reed said that Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna had considered going with “GOP.” But Reed talked him out of it, and says he wishes Rossi and other “GOP”s had stuck to the party line.

I just think it’s clearer to the voters and actually a little more respectful in some ways to give the full party name. But it’s their right. They can say what they want.
Seattle pollster Stuart Elway said he didn’t know how widely voters will recognize “GOP” as meaning Republican. But he figures Rossi wants to look to voters like something other than a member of the Republican Party.
That would be my first interpretation. Why else would you do it?

Reed is giving candidates until tomorrow to change their party identifications, though he is only allowing essentially copy-editing changes. That’s necessary, in part, because some candidates were confused by the online form they had to fill out. It called for party identification, and some people didn’t realize that whatever was filled in would be followed by “party.”

So if someone wrote “Democratic Party,” as longshot Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christian Pierre Joubert did, it will show up as "Democratic Party Party." That has a nice beer-commercial ring to it: It’s a party-party! Vote once, party twice!

There likely will be a few “Democrat” candidates changing their party preference. Some candidates filled in “Democrat” thinking that word alone would follow their name, as it has on ballots in past years.

But some Democrats say “Democrat Party” is a Republican construct and should be avoided. Blogger Daniel Kirkdorffer pointed out which candidates were listing themselves without the “ic” and e-mailed them to point out the problem.

It is well known in the Democratic Party that the phrase "Democrat Party" is consider an insult to many Democrats, so to see Democratic candidates use the phrase is surprising.

Here’s why it’s considered an insult, according to the liberal watchdog group, Media Matters for America.

Republicans consistently refer to the "Democrat Party," even though that is not what members of the Democratic Party call themselves, and use the noun "Democrat" as an adjective, which New Yorker magazine senior editor Hendrik Hertzberg identified as an attempt to deny the opposing party the claim to being "democratic," or as Hertzberg wrote, "to deny the enemy the positive connotations of its chosen appellation."

Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, is one who listed his party preference as “Democrat.”

I don't think it matters one way or the other. Voters just want to know which party we belong to. Either wording gives them that information. Any concern is much ado about nothing.

Rep. Jim McIntire, leaving the Legislature for a run for state treasurer, said he has asked to make the change, though he doesn’t understand why anyone cares.

I’ve been a Democrat all my life, so I don’t consider that an insult. … People are worked up about semantics.

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