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Originally published November 4, 2009 at 4:25 PM | Page modified November 4, 2009 at 6:31 PM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Susan Hutchison's stealth campaign fizzles

The plan to put a Republican-leaning candidate in the top job at King County backfired big time. Susan Hutchison lost to Dow Constantine for so many reasons. Let me count a few of them.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison must be home militantly not flossing her noticeably white teeth.

Hutchison once told Seattle Times reporters when she gets upset, she does not relax with a glass of wine or beer like some other people do. She sometimes rewards herself on a bad day by not flossing.

Hutchison had a lot going for her in the race against Dow Constantine, the council chairman who ran on the contradictory formula of an insider with experience who is also — in the same breath — a government reformer.

She was the only woman among five candidates in the primary. As a former TV news anchor for many years, she was well-spoken. In the general election campaign, she debated well, sometimes leaving Constantine inexplicably tense and tongue-tied. She was the outsider. Hutchison had everything going for her ... but experience.

Her significant loss is a blow to a cadre of Eastside and South King County political and business people who thought they had brewed a magic formula for electing a Republican-leaning candidate in a very Democratic county.

Last year, County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, backed by business leaders John Stanton and Skip Rowley, led the charge to make most top county offices nonpartisan. Voters easily blessed an initiative peddled as a way to remove harsh partisanship from county government.

The effort itself was partisan. These folks wanted a county executive of a different political stripe.

King County has not had a Republican county executive since Tim Hill bicycled out of office in 1993. Hill lost that year to then-legislator Gary Locke, now commerce secretary in the Obama administration.

Ever since, the executive has been a Democrat: Locke, Ron Sims and now, Constantine, a progressive who in decisive ads portrayed his opponent as anti-choice, anti-environment, anti-transit.

Hutchison's sizable loss proves county voters will not abide either a stealth Republican or someone who consistently dodges direct answers to reasonable questions. Hutchison never said she was pro choice, which is not a major issue in county politics unless an individual is squirrelly about the answer. Then voters become wary.

Hutchison employed the Dino Rossi strategy: Pretend it doesn't matter. Clearly, the county has far more pressing troubles, like a budget in permanent crisis mode. County health clinics do not provide abortions. They offer family-planning counseling and referral.

Keep in mind the county voted 70 percent for Obama last year. In the primary, four Democrats together collected 62 percent of the county executive vote.

County voters favored Referendum 71, the measure to affirm benefits for gay and lesbian domestic partners, by a resounding 66 percent. King County trounced Tim Eyman's latest initiative by a similar blowout percentage.

Wrong year to try to sneak in a Republican or someone who contributes cash to Mike Huckabee.

Hutchison made another mistake. Partway through the race, she called for shifting the Eastside extension of light rail from Interstate 90, which voters approved, to Highway 520. Engineers had already stomped on this approach — leaving Hutchison looking very beholden to Eastside businessmen opposed to the I-90 route.

Before Constantine gets too enthused about his own appeal, he must know he is the beneficiary of sharing the ballot with R-71, a very organized and powerful campaign, especially in King County.

Constantine ran a quiet, effective campaign — for example, calling thousands of independent and female voters in recent days explaining his support of women's issues. Female voters were also helpful to Sims each election cycle.

With an inexperienced mayor coming in, Seattle voters clamored for a candidate with demonstrable knowledge of the county — voters who are politically aligned with Constantine anyway.

I don't know where county Republicans go from here. If they want a Republican in a — wink, wink — nonpartisan race for the top spot in the county, they best start with a candidate more experienced, more legitimately moderate and far more forthcoming about her politics.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. E-mail jbalter@seattletimes.com

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