Washington state could be political battleground in '12

The GOP is looking to make gains in the Evergreen State despite Democrats' dominance in recent years.

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The chairman of the Republican National Committee traveled to Washington last week to fire the first shot in what he believes will be a battle for the Evergreen State's electoral votes in the 2012 presidential race.

Hmmm, the last time the state supported a Republican presidential candidate was when Ronald Reagan won a second term in 1984. The last Republican elected governor was John Spellman in 1980.

Is RNC Chairman Reince Priebus delusional?

Maybe not.

Despite the statewide success of Democrats over the past three decades, Republicans can win statewide elections. Slade Gorton was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980 and served until 2000. He did lose the 1986 election to Democrat Brock Adams but won the seat back in 1988. Republican Dan Evans, a three-term Republican governor, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1983.

And there have been occasional statewide officials who are Republicans, notably Secretary of State Sam Reed and his predecessors -- Ralph Munro, Bruce Chapman and Lud Kramer -- going back to 1964.

While it's clear Washington leans slightly to the political left, driven mostly by the more liberal voters of Seattle, the state has proven to be centrist in its views and independent in its thinking.

Washington state voters, as evidenced by the backlash against efforts to force them to vote a straight party line in primaries, seem to be swayed more by the candidate than the candidates' party.

So perhaps the right Republican presidential candidate could pick up Washington's 12 electoral votes.

Priebus said the RNC will commit significant financial resources to Washington as the election gets closer because he believes President Barack Obama will not be able to carry Washington by 17 percentage points as he did in 2008.

While state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz fully expects Obama to carry Washington state, he concedes it could be a battle.

"We've always understood that it's a purple state as much as a blue state," Pelz said. "We take the election very seriously."

The key to victory for either the Republicans or Democrats is to capture the vast political center -- those purple voters are Republican red on some issues and Democrat blue on the others.

If Washington truly becomes a battleground state, it means millions of dollars in party money will flow in and that could have an impact beyond the presidential race. It could influence races for U.S. Senate, Congress, governor and even the state Legislature.

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