Cover Story

Autumn of their contentment

Republicans can thank President Clinton for bringing to an end the GOP's Summer of Discontent. In the dicey days after James Dobson threatened to bolt the Republican Party, party elders feared the worst. But the Clinton scandal-and Mr. Clinton's refusal to resign the presidency-has united conservatives under the Republican banner, galvanizing would-be defectors to third parties.

Issue: "Clinton unites conservatives," Oct. 10, 1998

in Kirkland, Wash. - Kirkland is one of those gentrified-Bohemian suburbs of Seattle where Microsoft millionaires wear white socks with their Birkenstock sandals while browsing through trendy galleries and sipping the inevitable latte. Half-million-dollar condos cling to steep hillsides, offering sweeping views of Lake Washington and the Seattle skyline beyond. Though coffee shops and art spaces are everywhere, churches are much harder to come by. There are family values here, of course, but they're not exactly the stuff of Norman Rockwell: At the town's beautiful lakefront park and marina, for instance, soccer moms keep an eye on screaming children while chatting on their cell phones or clicking away on laptop computers. The overall feel is a kind of Ozzie and Harriett meet the Jetsons, as interpreted by Andy Warhol. Standing amidst the laid-back coolness that is Kirkland, one can easily forget that there is more to Washington's first congressional district than latte-swilling yuppies. At the other end of the district lies Kingston, a slow ferry ride across the Puget Sound from Seattle proper. It's a farming community-remote and isolated and far from hip. Some would say the same of Bruce Craswell, the former dentist and longtime social activist who may hold the political future of this district in his thick-fingered hands. The avuncular gentleman farmer hardly seems like much of a political threat. His simple, ranch-style house sits at the middle of a working farm, flanked by two slightly larger homes. One belongs to his daughter's family, the other to his son's. The grandchildren in both households are homeschooled, running back and forth all day between aunts and uncles, with frequent stops at Grandpa's place. This is Ozzie and Harriett pure and simple. No Jetsons. Not even a hint of Andy Warhol. As much as Mr. Craswell loves his little time-warp town, he wants to go to Washington, D.C., where he believes he can help return the entire country to the values that make his own life so idyllic. Accordingly, he's running for Congress on the American Heritage ticket, the state affiliate of the U.S. Taxpayers Party. Such a quixotic quest would have elicited yawns from both major parties, except for one important detail: his wife. Ellen Craswell spent 20 years in the state legislature before winning the GOP nomination for governor of Washington in 1996. In that race, she spent $1.8 million building the name recognition that third-party candidates usually lack. Add to that her list of 20,000 dedicated volunteers, and it's easy to see why a Craswell-any Craswell-in the race bodes ill for the GOP, which has won this seat by the barest margins in the last two election cycles. All those advantages made Mr. Craswell the independent candidate to watch in 1998-until Sept. 15, that is. On that day, Washingtonians went to the polls and gave Mr. Craswell just 6 percent of the vote in the state's open primary. A few weeks earlier, Mr. Craswell had told WORLD he could poll as high as 20 percent, a result that would surely have landed his name in newspaper headlines across the country. Instead, he became a footnote to the day's news, an asterisk in political history. In a year when James Dobson shook the GOP establishment by threatening to lead his flock from the Republican fold, how could such an enormously likeable and well-positioned third-party candidate fare so poorly? Like most independents, Mr. Craswell was counting on voter anger to put him on the political map. But despite the obvious frustration of Mr. Dobson and other leaders, the grass roots refused to rise up in righteous indignation. Or, more accurately, their righteous indignation was directed at the unrighteousness in the White House, rather than the underwhelming performance of the Republican majority in Congress. That, at least, is the explanation for 1998. In the long term, however, the implosion of the Craswell campaign has some wondering if disaffected Christians will ever abandon the Republican Party, no matter how badly it may treat them. There's little doubt that Christians around Seattle felt badly treated by their Republican congressman. Rick White, a lawyer first elected in 1994, has consistently logged the lowest scores among Washington's Republican congressional delegation on the Christian Coalition's annual report cards. This year, for instance, he voted in favor of public funding for research on abortion pills such as RU-486, while he opposed the Religious Freedom Amendment. Given that voting record, Mr. Craswell said he simply couldn't support the incumbent any longer-even though a Democrat, in the short run, might be even worse. "I'm just now to the point that I'm saying, 'We can't vote for the best of the worst,'" Mr. Craswell told WORLD. "My purpose in running is to give the people of the first district a choice. The only difference between the other two candidates is their party label. Ideologically they're just the same. "We've been brought along the road of immorality as fast as we can go. What we need is someone bringing us back, not just slowing us down. Republicans have taken the approach that we're going over the cliff at 40 mph, so if we go over at 20 mph, that's a victory." Other independent candidates around the country expected to find a large, receptive audience for a similar message. In Pennsylvania, Peg Luksik, the Constitution Party's candidate for governor, has been stressing pro-life and other moral issues in her campaign against moderate Republican Gov. Tom Ridge. Four years ago, that message won her 13 percent of the vote-a record showing for a third-party candidate in a statewide race. But recent polls show her support this time hovering around 8 percent, and some experts predict she'll attract only half as many votes as she did in 1994. In New York, meanwhile, former Republican congressman and perennial Right to Life Party candidate Joseph DioGuardi almost forced Rep. Sue Kelly, the moderate Republican incumbent, off the ballot with a technical challenge to her petition signatures. The political establishment rallied around Ms. Kelly, however, and the New York Board of Elections recently overruled Mr. DioGuardi's challenge, relegating him to the longest of long shots in his suburban Westchester district. So what happened to the threatened exodus? Why did believers choose to remain in the political land of Egypt, at least for a while longer? "It's always difficult to start a third party," Mr. Craswell explained shortly after the primary. "There's a strong feeling that you have to be in the majority in order to get anything done. Of course, I prefer to look back to 1856 when the Republican Party started. They didn't win any elections either." While allowing that he was "personally disappointed" with the election results, Mr. Craswell insisted that Sept. 15 was "encouraging for the party. We outpolled all other third parties in this state. All four of our candidates are qualified for the November ballot." One of those candidates, running for the state legislature from the city of Yakima, is in a two-way race and stands a good chance of being the only third-party lawmaker in the state house. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Governmental Studies at the University of Virginia, says Mr. Craswell's third-party challenge would have been a long shot "under the best of circumstances, as all of American history proves. We political scientists don't call [third parties] shooting stars for nothing." But this year is not the best of circumstances for independent candidates, Mr. Sabato says. The anger expressed by James Dobson and others has largely been re-directed at President Clinton's moral failures, presenting conservative voters with a very clear choice at the ballot box. "What's the priority, to teach the Republicans a lesson or to teach Bill Clinton a lesson?" Mr. Sabato asks. "This is the one positive impact for the Republicans of Bill Clinton's troubles. He has reminded Republicans that they have far more in common with each other than they ever could with Democrats.... As long as Bill Clinton is on the scene, antipathy toward him will help to solidify the Republican coalition." Still, independent candidates like Bruce Craswell stress that they are running for a principle-and for the future. Though he is given virtually no chance of winning, he insists he will stay in the race. If he can repeat his 6 percent showing in November, he very likely would deny reelection to Mr. White in this hotly contested swing district. "My entering this race assures Rick White is out," he acknowledges. "That's not the reason I'm running, but I think Rick White was in trouble before I entered the race. It would have been a close race with just two. I can't change Rick White, but I can make the next guy think about what he votes on." Mr. Craswell believes he can also build for the future-a future in which he sees a viable third party as an inevitability. "I think there's a movement coming, and I want to be a part of it," he says. "The thing we have to overcome is this feeling that you have to have the majority. The majority of what? It's been proven that a majority of Republicans will not do the job.... Being in the majority doesn't help you, unless it's a majority of conservatives. Down the road, if we're going to get a majority of conservatives, it will be made up of Republicans, Democrats, American Heritage, whatever. We don't care about party labels, we believe in ideas. "We're in it for the long haul," he insists. "I'm not sure I'm going to be around for the long haul, but my kids and my grandkids will."

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