Former conservative talk radio host Kirby Wilbur didn't just "unseat" Washington State Republican Party Chair Luke Esser at Saturday's GOP meeting in Tukwila, he trounced him by a nearly two-to-one margin, 69 to 36.
Wow. That's a spanking that suggests that Teabaggers have seized control of the local party machinery throughout much of the state in a grassroots surge reminiscent of the religious right's political apogee during the Ellen Craswell era. It is also bad news for State Attorney General Rob McKenna and his gubernatorial ambitions. Esser, McKenna's longtime political cabin boy (he worked for McKenna both on the King County Council and in the AG's office), was installed as WSRP chair in 2007, as his patron solidified control over the party apparatus. If Esser was the face of the party establishment, McKenna is the brains, so the defeat of the former is certainly a blow for the latter.
Continuing with that analogy, you might want to think of Wilbur as the heart of the WA GOP—whatever he might lack in strategy or pragmatism, he more than makes up for in passion, and I've no doubt that he will have considerably greater success than Esser in inspiring the Republican base. But unfortunately for McKenna, the Republican base is batshit crazy, and if unchained from their radiators, could prove as much of an impediment to McKenna's gubernatorial chances as a help.
Should McKenna pander to the Teabaggers and the inevitably nutty platform they'll put in place, he risks alienating himself from the centrist swing voters every Republican candidate desperately needs to win statewide in WA. But neither can he afford to disillusion the rank and file party faithful manning the all important GOTV campaign. I'd say the smart money is still on McKenna in 2012, but without Esser in place to run interference, those odds certainly just got longer.
As for Wilbur, well, I gotta admit that personally, I kinda like him. I enjoyed sparring with him on KVI, where he always treated me fairly on air. In fact, he even gave me a letter of recommendation when I first started seeking a job in radio, along with a lot of personal encouragement. That said, when it comes to the issues, Wilbur is absolutely wrong on almost everything. But then, that's not much of a change from Esser, now is it?
Still, regardless of Wilbur's ultimate performance in the job, I'm guessing most WA Dems are at least pleasantly surprised by his decisive and disruptive victory, and the unsuspected weakness in the McKenna political machine it revealed.