Ellen Craswell is a sort of patron saint to conservative voters across the state of Washington. Against all odds, she captured the 1996 Republican nomination for governor and put together an unorthodox-but fanatically motivated-network of volunteers that proved highly effective and stunned the political pros.
But last March it was the volunteers' turn to be stunned. "Next Wednesday," Mrs. Craswell wrote in a letter to some 20,000 supporters, "Bruce and I will announce that we have resigned from the Republican Party."
She went on to explain that she and her husband had been considering the American Heritage Party for about a year, but feared that bolting the GOP would split the conservative vote. "Still," she wrote, "the thought continued to nag us.... Would God more likely 'show himself strong' through a party whose purpose is to raise up a biblical standard and glorify him in victory than a party focused on a big-tent philosophy and power through numbers?"
Sitting in the sun-filled breakfast room of her modest home a few months later, Mrs. Craswell still speaks of the difficulty of her and her husband's decision, one she believes many Christians will soon be wrestling with.
Mrs. Craswell's announcement forced some to face that decision more quickly than they might have liked. Her son Jim, who lives next door with his wife and six children, is a political activist in his own right, serving on the Kitsap County Human Rights Commission and running for precinct committeeman-"the lowest level within the party," as he describes it.
That would be the Republican Party. Despite being the son of the most high-profile members of the American Heritage Party, the younger Mr. Craswell still considers himself a Republican.
"I don't really care about the party," he told WORLD shortly after the primary. "I'm not a Republican loyalist. To me, politics is about moving the middle, and I just don't think any third party is positioned to do that.... Do you reach the middle by being in there, working with them? Or do you affect the masses by standing on the sidelines and declaring the unrighteousness of the current state? I think you need both. There's a lot of the prophet in my father, and there's a lot of the exhorter in me.... It's not that we have different end goals, it's just that there are different roles on the team that need filling."
Mr. Craswell says he respects his parents' decision and says his father is his best friend. But he admits to worrying about the public reaction if the presence of a third party starts to chip away at the Republican majority. "If they become a spoiler, there's going to be some rough fallout," he predicts. "They're going to be shunned by a lot of the conservative population. If they don't continue to grow as a party, but they become spoilers, they'll almost be like lepers."
What would cause Mr. Craswell to one day follow in his parents' footsteps? He worries about efforts within the GOP to require an oath of allegiance to the party and its platform. "I don't want to form an allegiance with any man-made political party," he insists. "If the moderate wing ever got in control and required adherence to their platform, I'd probably check out. But as long as I can be a part of the party without compromising my personal beliefs, then I can stay there."
In the meantime, he believes his parents' departure can have a positive effect. "The American Heritage Party ... will be a voice in the public square, and that will have an effect on all the other parties. The worst thing is for people to get discouraged and just drop out."