The notion of running on a ballot with Donald Trump is causing heartburn for some state Republican candidates.
It’s tough enough to run for statewide office in Washington as a Republican. But the notion of sharing a ballot with Donald Trump is giving some GOP candidates extra heartburn.
Even as Trump solidified his front-runner status and delegate lead in Super Tuesday’s primaries, top Republican candidates here sought to distance themselves from the New York real-estate mogul.
“It’d be better if we had a nominee who could unite the party and bring everyone together. Maybe that’ll still happen, but today it doesn’t appear to be,” said Chris Vance, the Republican challenger running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
Vance took to social media earlier in the week to denounce as “unacceptable” Trump’s refusal during an interview to repudiate former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump later disavowed Duke on Twitter.
Bill Bryant, the Republican candidate challenging Gov. Jay Inslee, repeated earlier statements that “if Trump believes what he says, he is not fit to be president.”
Both Bryant and Vance declined to say whether they’d vote for Trump if he winds up as their party’s nominee in November.
“I don’t like to cross hypothetical bridges,” Bryant said.
In a Facebook post in December, Vance had said Republicans would need to unite behind their presidential nominee “whoever that is.” But on Tuesday, Vance declined to say whether he’d be able to support Trump.
“The day he is officially the Republican nominee, then I will answer that question,” he said.
A state Democratic Party spokesman said GOP candidates cannot escape Trump’s orbit.
“Republicans like Bill Bryant and Chris Vance, who were already running uphill campaigns as conservative Republicans in a blue state, now could have to deal with sharing a ticket with Donald Trump, whose place on the top of ticket will further brand their party as one that rejects diversity, rejects women, and rejects basic civility,” said Jamal Raad, the spokesman, in an emailed statement.
Indeed, some top state Republicans and political operatives fear Trump could have a disastrous down-ballot effect on their candidates, echoing similar concerns raised by some national GOP officials.
“It does matter. It matters a great deal. It hurts them not to have a strong and appealing candidate at the top of the ticket, no question about it,” said former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who said that while he could not vote for a Democrat like Hillary Clinton, he also will not vote for Trump.
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Some Republican elected leaders have publicly bashed Trump, including Congressman Dave Reichert, who called him “a joke” last year in a radio interview. And state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, labeled Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “fascism.”
That anti-Trump sentiment is far from unanimous. Unlike rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Trump has no organized campaign presence in the state. But some GOP caucusgoers last month said they support Trump and appreciate his blunt talk and willingness to not hew to political correctness.
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, has posted positive articles about Trump on Facebook, arguing he could draw in moderate and conservative Democrats. In one post last month, Ericksen wrote that while he’s not sure how Trump might perform as president, “I believe the odds would be better that Trump would do a good job.”
State Republican Party chair Susan Hutchison said the party is neutral in the Republican presidential primary and individual candidates must decide for themselves how to handle the prospect of a Trump nomination.
“Each person is in charge of their own campaign, and a lot of that is related to how they express themselves in sometimes awkward situations. Certainly Donald Trump has given us plenty of awkward situations,” she said.
The same level of hand-wringing has not been evident among state Democratic candidates when it comes to their party’s presidential front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The top-of-the-ticket problem is not new for Republicans in Washington. The party has had success in legislative races in recent years, capturing a majority in the state Senate and paring the Democratic majority in the state House.
But in statewide contests, which usually coincide with presidential years, the GOP has struggled. The party hasn’t won a governor’s race here since 1980 — the longest such losing streak in the country.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman is now the sole statewide elected Republican official on the entire West Coast. She did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on Trump.
Both Vance and Bryant said they’ll try to separate their own races from the national conversation.
Bryant said he doesn’t think a Trump candidacy will necessarily doom his campaign. “People here are used to splitting tickets,” he said. His focus will remain on state issues, including recent, highly publicized errors in the state Department of Corrections that led to the early release of thousands of felons.
That’s not likely to be as easy for Vance, who is running for federal office. “It is easier for Bill than it is for me,” he acknowledged Tuesday.
But Vance said he doesn’t see himself aligning with any of the remaining GOP candidates — Trump or others. “I think a lot of Republicans are going to run as free agents this year,” he said.