When a lifelong Puyallup resident is elected to run Washington’s statewide Republican party apparatus, as Caleb Heimlich was last month, the news should elicit a hearty Pierce County cheer, no matter your flavor of politics.
This week Heimlich became the first State Republican Party chair from Pierce County since the early 1990s, when the late Ben Bettridge of Tacoma filled in for a year after Jennifer Dunn resigned to run for Congress.
Breaking a long cycle of party bosses from King County should be a point of pride for the people of the 253; Heimlich will bring a firm grasp and well-tuned ear for South Sound issues to the GOP headquarters in Bellevue. (Monique Trudnowski of Tacoma also ran for the position.)
But even more than his area code, what sets Heimlich apart from every other Republican party chieftain is his age. At 32, he’s the youngest GOP chair in the country, and he plans to capitalize on that to enlist millennials as conservative foot soldiers — no easy feat in the Trump era.
“The old image of the Republican Party is old men, basically,” Heimlich told KING-5 News, “and at least now we have a young man who can speak to young people moving into Seattle, working at Amazon, working at Microsoft.”
We’d add that he’s also suited to speak to young people who can’t afford to move to Seattle and who consequently put down roots in Tacoma and its suburbs. They’re buying homes, starting families, paying taxes, making payments on commuter cars and college debt, and developing values that just might bend toward the conservative side.
Heimlich first came to our attention 10 years ago when he was a gung-ho first-time legislative candidate, fresh from the famously conservative training grounds of Hillsdale College, running for a House seat in the 25th District. Though he didn’t survive the primary, we identified him as a “young and exceptionally bright conservative” who “ought to stay in public life regardless of the outcome of this election.”
We’re glad he didn’t ignore our advice. Today, he seems ready to lead in the moderate style of East Pierce Republicans including Sen. Hans Zeiger (another Hillsdale product), Rep. Melanie Stambaugh and Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier.
Heimlich inherits a GOP fundraising and campaign operation that he knows well; he was the party’s executive director for five years under Chairwoman Susan Hutchison until her last day in the top job last week.
And yet he has an unenviable task ahead, trying to blunt Democratic advances after the first year of a historically unpopular Republican president. “You would be foolish not to worry,” he said. “I think if you look at historic trends, the president's party generally loses an average of 30 seats in the next congressional election.”
Republicans are in the driver’s seat to retain the 8th Congressional District post being vacated by Rep. Dave Reichert. But whoever they support to run against U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell this year is almost certain to be roadkill. Meanwhile, in Olympia, there’s an outside chance for them to take control of the state House, and a narrower path to win back the Senate.
Any success could hinge on the ability of Heimlich and his team to miraculously overcome the Trump factor and to mobilize 20-to-35-year-old voters; as of this year, millennials have slipped past baby boomers as the largest voting-eligible generation of Americans.
We expect this political wunderkind, a former Puyallup home-school student and Pierce College Running Start graduate, will give nothing but an A-plus effort.