Glory-days Redskins player Clint Didier has emerged as game-changer in the Senate race in Washington.
The two-time Super Bowl champion has received a key endorsement from former Alaska Gov. and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a wide-open Republican primary for the seat of incumbent Democrat Patty Murray.
“It caught me a little off-guard,” said Mr Didier, who has met Mrs. Palin only once, at a book signing in his home state. “But it was a welcome endorsement that really got me going. But as in football, a touchdown is not the end of the game. I have to keep going.”
The endorsement puts Mr. Didier solidly within the class of 2010 that is running as non-establishment candidates and trying to oust incumbents.
That’s a role in which Mr. Didier, 51, says he feels comfortable.
“Part of the country’s biggest problem is career politicians who have never been in the private sector,” said Mr. Didier as he waited last week for a repairman to fix his broken-down tractor so he could return to plowing and raking his 1,100-acre farm in eastern Washington, where he grows alfalfa. “They’ve never run a business, much less owned a business.”
Mr. Didier is among a field of 13 Republican candidates for the Aug. 17 primary. The top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the November general election.
However, the likely scenario will be Ms. Murray, who is seeking a fourth term, and a Republican. Mr. Didier’s situation is complicated by the fact National Republican Senatorial Committee-backed candidate Dino Rossi has yet to declare his candidacy.
Mr. Rossi, a former gubernatorial candidate and real estate investor, plans to wait until the June 11 deadline, which has frustrated Mainstream Republicans of Washington Executive Director Alex Hays.
“If Mr. Rossi had entered this race earlier, he’d have emerged as the candidate,” said Mr. Hays, who is already helping the U.S. Senate campaign of state Sen. Don Benton. “Now that he’s waited this long, other candidates don’t want to drop out.”
Mrs. Murray was not on the shortlist of incumbents targeted this year for defeat. Yet she could become more vulnerable following the recent wave of “tea party” activism that helped defeat incumbent Republican Sen. Robert F. Bennett in Utah and led outsider candidate Rand Paul to a stunning Republican primary victory in the Kentucky Senate race.
Mrs. Murray, chairman of a House subcommittees on employment and another on transportation and housing, was a strong supporter of the Senate’s recently passed Wall Street reform legislation. Mr. Rossi has said Mrs. Murray, 59, is out of touch with the economic problems faced by Washington residents.
A poll average by Real Clear Politics shows Mrs. Murray with a three-point lead against Mr. Rossi, a 13-point lead against Mr. Benton and a roughly 14-point lead against Mr. Didier.
“I’m proud to support Clint Didier as he willingly puts it all on the line to serve Washington state in the U.S. Senate for all the right reasons,” Mrs. Palin said in her endorsement. “This selfless, inspiring, common-sense constitutional conservative will help put our country on the right track.”
A victory for Mr. Didier would make him the second Redskin to be elected to Congress. Quarterback Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, was elected to the House in 2006.
The 6-foot, 5-inch tall Mr. Didier played tight end for the Redskins from the 1982-83 to 1987-88 seasons and won Super Bowls with the team in 1983 and 1988. He is perhaps best remembered for his key block late in Super Bowl XVII that sprung running back John Riggins for his game-winning, 43-yard touchdown run against the Miami Dolphins.
Mr. Didier — also a state champion high school football coach — said he’s drawn much of his strength and life lessons from his playing under Hall of Fame Redskins coach Joe Gibbs.
“I admire that man,” Mr. Didier said. “You don’t accomplish what he has by accident. He has core values and a belief in faith. He was an inspiration.”
A spokeswoman for the Joe Gibbs Team said Mr. Gibbs was swamped with races this past weekend in Charlotte, N.C., and without a cell phone but that he “thinks the world of Clint Didier.”