BELLINGHAM - It takes a brave candidate to run with the big dogs in political races.
The 40-year career of Whatcom County Prosecutor David McEachran seemed safe for four more years when nobody stepped forward to challenge him in this year's elections.
Enter Nyima, the darling of Bellingham's liberal community and a last-minute write-in candidate for the Aug. 5 primary. Early numbers show Nyima rising rapidly as the long-awaited alternative to the Republican mainstay in the Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
Nyima has traits voters look for in a politician. He's likeable, loyal and a good listener.
He's also just 17 inches tall, nine months old and furry.
But even though Nyima (pronounced "Knee-ma") is a dog - a Tibetan terrier to be exact - the enthusiasm of his many supporters remains strong.
"He's nine months old but in dog years much older, (with) a keen sense of justice," said Nyima's handler, longtime Bellingham resident Frank James.
James is a prominent activist who organized opposition to controversial development on Chuckanut Ridge and more recently to a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point. In his latest role as campaign manager, however, James said his candidate is decidedly nonpartisan.
"Unless you are an evildoer, he will be your best friend," James said. "If you are an evildoer, look out - his bite is worse than his bark, as it should be."
Nyima has received endorsements from leading Bellingham progressives, including political blogger Riley Sweeney. Sweeney insisted that he did in fact write in Nyima's name on the primary ballot.
"Nyima might do a superior job to our current county prosecutor," Sweeney said. "It's just a sign that we need some change - and a fresh bowl of water."
Sweeney's statement showed how influential Nyima's ideas are. The candidate has yet to speak publicly, but a quote attributed to the canine is gaining circulation.
"Running unopposed is just wrong in a democracy. There should be choices for all those that vote," Nyima is quoted as saying.
McEachran, who was running unopposed for his 11th term as prosecutor, sat up and took notice when he learned of Nyima's write-in bid.
"I'll need to dig down and take a look at it," McEachran said in a phone interview on Thursday, July 31. "This sounds like something I should prepare to meet."
The prosecutor added that he might toss a bone to a constituency he hasn't paid much attention to in the past.
"I may need to court the dog vote," he said.
Nyima's qualifications have been called into question. Washington law says a "person" must be a licensed attorney in the state, and a registered voter, to run for county prosecutor.
The candidate's name could not be found on voter rolls. A search on the Washington State Bar Association website for an attorney with the first name "Nyima" came up empty.
After hearing about Nyima's campaign, Whatcom County Auditor Debbie Adelstein discouraged what she referred to, rather dismissively, as frivolous write-ins.
"That adds to our workload, to have write-ins that don't even qualify," Adelstein said - with a smile on her face.
As of Wednesday night, "about 43 people" had told James they were voting for Nyima in the primary.
"We may put up a more significant effort in November," James said.
After Nyima's true lineage was explored, his breed was corrected Aug. 1.