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Originally published Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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David Postman

GOP: New brand, same old style

There is much talk this year — the eighth of an increasingly unpopular president — of damage done to the "Republican brand."

Seattle Times chief political reporter

Excerpts from his blog, Postman on Politics

There is much talk this year — the eighth of an increasingly unpopular president — of damage done to the "Republican brand."

John McCain's campaign manager says the political environment for Republicans is "one of the worst in our party's history." And retiring Virginia Congressman Tom Davis told Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. recently that if Republicans "were dog food, they'd take us off the shelf and put us in a landfill."

What's a Republican to do?

Re-brand, of course. On Washington's 2008 primary and general-election ballots, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi will be identified as a member of the "G.O.P. Party."

That's an abbreviation for the Grand Old Party, the nickname the Republicans picked up in the 1870s. "GOP" is used in newspapers and political blogs but hasn't served as an official party designation on an election ballot.

But if Kentucky Fried Chicken can become KFC and the International House of Pancakes be known as IHOP, why can't Republicans call themselves the GOP party?

This year, they can. The state's new top-two primary allows candidates to state their party preference. And they could say anything they wanted as long as it wasn't profane, though they were urged by Secretary of State Sam Reed not to engage in any "funny business."

Most Republican candidates chose to list their party preference as "Republican" or "Republican Party." The state's three incumbent statewide officials all will appear as "Republican" candidates.

But Rossi is carrying forward with a re-branding effort that started four years ago during his first run against Democrat Christine Gregoire. The tag lines on his TV commercials said "Rossi for governor, GOP," as do his yard signs.

"We have found that voters know what GOP means and we spent millions of dollars saying GOP on the last campaign, so we decided to stick with it," campaign spokeswoman Jill Strait said.

Reed said Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna had considered going with "GOP." But Reed talked him out of it, and wishes Rossi and other GOPers had stuck to the party line.

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"I just think it's clearer to the voters and actually a little more respectful in some ways to give the full party name," Reed said. "But it's their right. They can say what they want."

Seattle pollster Stuart Elway said he didn't know how widely voters will recognize GOP as meaning Republican. But he figures Rossi wants to look to voters like something other than a member of the Republican Party.

"That would be my first interpretation," Elway said. "Why else would you do it?"

Reed is giving candidates until today to change their party identifications, though he's essentially allowing only copy-editing changes.

There likely will be a few "Democrat" candidates changing their party preference to "Democratic." Some candidates filled in "Democrat" thinking that word alone would follow their name, as it has on ballots in past years.

But some Democrats say "Democrat Party" is a Republican construct meant to deny the party's claim to being democratic.

Rep. Jim McIntire, D-Seattle, who is leaving the Legislature for a run for state treasurer, said he has asked to make the change, though he doesn't understand why anyone cares.

"I've been a Democrat all my life, so I don't consider that an insult," he said. "People are worked up about semantics."

This material has been edited for print publication.

David Postman is The Seattle Times' chief political reporter. Reach him at 360-236-8267 or at dpostman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About David Postman
Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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