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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

In A Trump Year, Candidates Look For Ways To Shake Things Up

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Republicans Drew MacEwen, left, and Bill Bryant are all smiles after skydiving as part of MacEwen's campaign kickoff for state representative. Bryant is running for governor.

There was a rumor a few weeks ago that Bernie Sanders was going to skydive into a rally in California. He didn’t end up doing that.

But recently two candidates for office in Washington state did jump out of an airplane. It was for a campaign kickoff event at the Shelton airport for Republican state Rep. Drew MacEwen. And he had a special guest in Republican candidate for governor Bill Bryant.

Why parachute out of an airplane for a campaign event? 

“I think if there’s any lesson right now with the 2016 elections it’s that it’s not business as usual and people are getting tired of the old stuff,” MacEwen said. “And yeah, this is a little bit of a splash, but how many rubber chicken dinners can you ask people to go to? Let’s do something fun.”

“I’m all over that,” Bryant agreed. “No more rubber chicken dinners.”

Bryant also wanted to use the event to highlight military ballots going out soon for the primary. But there was also a strategic reason for him doing this. Byrant’s own campaign polling shows that as a first-time statewide candidate he needs to get his name ID up with Washington voters.

It’s also one more example that this is anything but a traditional election year.

‘An interesting way to do a launch’

Skydiving was MacEwen’s idea and he pitched it to Bryant.

“I think I hit him up a few months ago and said this was the plan for my kickoff and do you want to jump and caught him on a weak moment and he said yes.,” MacEwen said with a laugh.

MacEwen has done this once before. Bryant was a first-timer but said, “I have not had any cold feet.”

Both candidates have opponents in their respective races. And those opponents, for the record, have no plans to go skydiving.

“It’s an interesting way to do a launch,” MacEwen’s Democrat opponent Craig Patti said. “It seems to be one way of doing it.”

Patti is also a firefighter. But he said there will be no thrill seeking when he formally kicks off his campaign later this month.

“I don’t plan on taking people into burning buildings or doing a CPR demonstration or anything like that,” Patti said.

That includes getting Tazed -- something another state rep candidate recently did. Patti said he’s not convinced that campaign stunts are what it takes to break through in 2016.

“I don’t feel that if you have a good message that you need to be flashy to get it out there,” he said.

Bryant’s opponent is Gov. Jay Inslee. He may not deploy a parachute anytime soon, but he did recently deploy a fire shelter and climb inside it in front of TV cameras.

This was official governor business, not for the campaign. But asked if he’s feeling any pressure to get creative on the campaign trail, Inslee doubled down on the power of incumbency.

“We’re doing our job and my job today is to help people fight forest fires and I think that’s pretty creative,” Inslee said.

‘There was no part that I didn’t enjoy’

As MacEwen and Bryant rode out to the airplane that took them to 13,000 feet, I asked MacEwen what was going through his mind.

“The anxiety will hit when we’re sitting in the door of the plane, but right now I’m ready,” MacEwen said with a laugh.

Shortly after the plane carrying the candidates took off, a video camera strapped to MacEwen’s chest captured the moment he and Bryant jump out of the plane attached to their instructors.

Their freefall lasted about a minute before the parachutes are opened. A few minutes later they were back on the ground with high fives and smiles. Bryant was clearly stoked.

“Ah bully, it was just bully,” he said. “It was great. There was no part that I didn’t enjoy.”

But is this going to help their campaigns?

“Absolutely,” MacEwen said. “You’re here!” he said with a laugh.

MacEwen also said that he believes the event might bring in a few campaign contributions that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

As the candidates arrive back at the campaign kickoff, there are some jokes. A member of the band said, “The candidates are back after their stunt doubles jumped out an airplane.”

Then Bryant took the mic.

“Today, we didn’t do the same thing and we’re demonstrating we’re going to be thinking a little bit outside the box and we’re going to take a few risks,” he said. “But doing that is going to help turn this state around.”

After the speeches, a band started playing and it started to feel like a typical campaign event. Music, pork sliders and beer.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."