Clint Didier, who won two Super Bowls as a tight end with the Washington Redskins, is running another sweep right this year in his second bid for Congress, but it’s a playbook that could leave his opponent running through a gaping hole right in the middle of the field.
The 55-year-old Mr. Didier, who lost a race for a U.S. Senate seat to Washington state Democrat Patty Murray in 2010, is not tempering his staunch tea party views in his bid for a House seat in the state’s 4th congressional district, even though his opponent this time is a fellow Republican looking to scoop up all of the district’s voters to the left of Mr. Didier.
Larry Stickney, Mr. Didier’s campaign manager, said his candidate’s unapologetically conservative views play well in the district, which covers much of the center of the state, far from Seattle and more liberal enclaves to the west.
“Clint is not hated by these folks,” Mr. Stickney said, calling him “a combination of Davy Crockett and John Wayne.”
“He has a charisma that goes across the party divide,” Mr. Stickney said.
The outspoken Mr. Didier, a farmer and small businessman who played seven seasons in the NFL, sees himself as someone willing to say what conventional politicians won’t. He vows to vote against any tax increase and won’t pledge to support GOP Speaker John Boehner for the House’s top job if elected. He’s been endorsed by former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, libertarian hero Ron Paul and FreedomWorks, one of the leading national tea party groups.
In a debate earlier this month, Mr. Didier argued that the U.S. needs to restore the U.S. military to the size it was in the Reagan era. He is also outspoken that the federal government should close the borders and rein in government handouts. He went as far as to turn down disaster aid he was eligible for after heavy rains ruined his crops in 2010.
Whether that will prove a winning strategy Nov. 4, even in the state’s most conservative congressional district, is another question.
Under the state’s “blanket primary” system, Mr. Didier and fellow Republican Dan Newhouse, a farmer, former state legislator and the state agriculture director for former Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire, emerged as the top two primary vote-getters and will face off next month. No Democrat will be on the ballot and it’s unlikely Mr. Didier will be the top choice of Democratic voters looking for a last-worst option.
The two Republicans are fighting to succeed retiring Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican who has represented the district since 1995.
Even though President Obama got just 37 percent of the vote here in the district in 2012, Mr. Didier’s “mainstream Tea Party views” are probably too extreme to win a seat in Congress, said John Wilkerson, University of Washington professor and director of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy.
There are clear signs that “establishment” Republicans would also not like to see the onetime Redskin getting another call-up to Capitol Hill. Washington’s Future, a political action committee backed by moderate former GOP Sen. Slade Gorton, raised $55,000 to air an anti-Didier ad campaign citing his “weird and extreme” views.
On the campaign trail and in debates, Mr. Newhouse embraces the moderate’s role, noting in a debate earlier this month that when he worked in Olympia he quickly learned that “if you want to accomplish anything, you have to work with people you may not agree with, people you may not even like.”
His aides say Mr. Didier’s uncompromising views go too far even for the conservative district.
“As a federal government, we want to save money as well, but eliminating the [Veterans Administration], Medicaid and Social Security is a bit too extreme,” said Jim Keough, a spokesman for Mr. Newhouse.
This is Mr. Didier’s third try for public office. Two years after his loss to Mrs. Murray, he lost a race for state land commissioner, getting just 41 percent of the vote against the Democratic incumbent. Still, Mr. Didier’s campaign says it has voter intensity on its side.
“We’ve got tremendous support throughout the community I’ve never seen such a grassroots support for a candidate,” said Mr. Stickney.
Mr. Didier actually won the August primary with 30.4 percent of the vote to 26.6 percent. But nearly 30,000 votes in the primaries went to 10 candidates other than Mr. Newhouse or Mr. Didier, and how those votes break will make the difference in the election Nov. 4.
Mr. Didier — who has made it clear he has no problems with the name of the Washington pro football team — would be the fifth NFL player to serve in Congress and the second Redskin, after former Democratic North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler.
• Mark Pace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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