Republican candidate for Washington State governor, Rob McKenna, announced Monday the launch of a cross-partisan affinity group—“Democrats for Rob” (D4R)—a group of leaders from the left side of state politics endorsing McKenna, a coalition chaired by popular five-term state auditor and Democrat Brian Sonntag.

According to an official statement from the McKenna campaign, Sonntag, McKenna, and other members of the D4R coalition gathered Monday morning at the base of the Space Needle in Seattle to offer their support for McKenna.

The fact that Democrats are coming out to support McKenna’s candidacy is not in itself surprising. His elections—twice to the King County Council and twice in statewide races for Attorney General—have been won by appealing to politically diverse populations of voters. It makes sense then for Sonntag to stand beside McKenna as a kindred political spirit of sorts, another politician who enjoys tremendous approval from the opposite party.

Sonntag said his leadership of the pro-McKenna Democratic organization is a natural outgrowth of his experience working with McKenna in Olympia.

“After years of effective partnership, mutual respect, and friendship, helping Rob in this capacity was an afterthought,” said Sonntag in a prepared statement. “I am confident he is the right person for the job. Olympia has been polluted by special interest or partisan meddling. I’ve seen Rob display the kind of leadership that can get past all of that.”

“Each Democrat that arrives at the same realization I have, or may have their own reason to offer, or story to tell,” continued Sonntag.  “I am here to encourage their involvement and lend my support to a friend that has repeatedly demonstrated that patient, thoughtful leadership can consistently triumph over debilitating partisanship.”

During his long tenure as State Auditor, Sonntag has been the state’s most active proponent of open government and the elimination of waste.

NW Daily Marker readers may remember that Sonntag also spoke glowingly of another Republican, James Watkins, the only Republican running for state auditor.

The fist-bumping of a prominent Democrat with two high-level Republicans could send a strong message to cross-over and swing voters that bipartisan government is simply not happening under the current one-party Democratic control of Olympia.

McKenna wants D4R to underscore his commitment to consolidating the best ideas from the brightest policy minds, regardless of party identification.

“Dedicated public servants must put their commitment to the public’s best interests above all else, including party labels,” said McKenna.  “As Governor, I intend to listen to voices from across the political spectrum, because no one group or party has a monopoly on good ideas.”

“I am looking for people committed to moving this state in a New Direction–getting people back to work, adequately funding public schools, and making state government more efficient and less costly–and together I’m sure we can find a way to lead our state forward.”

In addition to Sonntag, the McKenna campaign gave a list of prominent Democrats scheduled to appear at Monday’s launch event including: State Sen. Tim Sheldon, retired lobbyist Jim Boldt, former state legislator Mark Doumit, former King County Councilwoman Maggie Fimia, Paul Carkeek, Ron Chow, Thi Huynh, Marie Mentor, Kirke Sievers, Morrie Trautman, and Judy Yu.

One name not on the list? Big-money Democratic donor Nick Hanauer, who earlier this year turned his own party’s internal politics upside-down after scheduling a meeting with McKenna to discuss education reform, an issue Hanauer blasted his fellow Democrats for failing to address in any meaningful way.

Education will likely be a key issue for swing voters in the governor’s race, as well as many down-ticket elections for State Legislature, and in the early spring to land support from key education groups, McKenna has a 2-1 lead over Inslee.

McKenna was endorsed in May by Stand for Children, an education advocacy group, and Monday won the endorsement of the Public School Employees of Washington, the labor organization representing non-classroom employees. Inslee has received the state teachers union’s seal of approval.

In a comment to The Tacoma News Tribune, State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz quickly dismissed D4R as a “stunt,” but did not call out Sonntag by name:

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz was critical of the move without taking on any of the named Democrats.

“If Rob McKenna ever comes up with a new idea, it will definitely be news. We’ve been through Democrats for Dino and Democrats for Hutchison,” Pelz said. “We’re looking forward to the pattern of this failed stunt continuing with Jay Inslee winning this election and becoming our next governor.