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Early poll shows strength for Susan Hutchison

There are four male Democrats in a clump and a far-better-known Republican woman in the race for King County Executive. But Hutchison's support may not hold up once her conservative politics become an issue.
Susan Hutchison, a fresh face in politics but a familiar face to voters.

Susan Hutchison, a fresh face in politics but a familiar face to voters. Charles Simonyi Fund

Peter Hart's Washington D.C. research firm has done a late April poll for the King County Executive race, and it shows the four Democrats grouped at low numbers and low name-familiarity, while former KIRO news anchor Susan Hutchison is well ahead. The poll was done April 20-22 by phone survey of 500 likely voters in King County; it was commissioned by candidate Sen. Fred Jarrett, the Mercer Island former Republican, now a Democrat.

According to the results, Hutchison, who is far better known as a broadcast personality than as a conservative Republican, is the preferred choice if the election were held right now, getting 20 percent of the vote. (Actually, "Undecided" was the real winner, getting an unusually high 59 percent of the nods.) She was followed by Jarrett (7%), Dow Constantine (6), Larry Phillips (5), and Ross Hunter (3). In the name-recognition tally, it was: Hutchison (62%), Phillips (27), Constantine (26), Jarrett (24) and Hunter (20).

These are the candidates for the now-bipartisan post, being vacated by Ron Sims after three terms. Phillips and Constantine are both well-known as Democrats, representing north Seattle and south Seattle districts,respectively, on the County Council. Hunter is a Democratic representative from Bellevue serving in the House. Hunter and Jarrett, good friends, will split the moderate suburban vote, just as Phillips and Constantine will split the more liberal and Seattle vote. Hutchison is the sole woman in the race, the one political outsider, and the one woman. In a crowded field, she should do well, and most now think she will survive the nonpartisan, top-two primary coming up in August.

Hutchison's lead may represent a kind of ceiling, since King County (normally counted at about a 65-35 split for Democrats, and going for Obama 70-28) will not be drawn to someone with her conservative and religious leanings, once they become better known. She did poorly among Democrats but well among "Independents" in the polling, leading in the category of "has a great deal/fair amount of appeal," where she got 54% of Independents to Jarrett's second place rank of 41%. Jarrett's switch of parties will probably translate into a lot of appeal to independent voters, as well as grateful Democrats. It will also anger and activate many GOP die-hards, who want to punish such treachery.

Another encouraging sign for Hunter, Jarrett, and Hutchison is the strong preference for a new county executive who has "experience outside county government." All voter types expressed the desire for such a person, when contrasted with "has experience as a county councilmember," with voters outside Seattle and Independents particularly strong for the outsider. Liberals and Seattle residents had the most fondness for county councilmembers, natch.

My early handicapping, though with two big cautions: the primary on August 18 is coming very soon, on top of the summer doldrums, and with mail voting for weeks before that; and the large number of undecideds makes for more volatility. That said: Jarrett, as a good-guy Mercer Island moderate with strong transportation credentials and Boeing management experience in his favor, might have the broadest appeal, but his base is being attacked by the similar Hunter, a former Microsoft manager. Phillips would appear to be outworking and out-fundraising his lower-keyed counterpart, Dow Constantine, though the latter will have more appeal to younger voters. A race between a Seattle liberal and an Eastside moderate would favor the centrist, who could garner Republican votes in the general election. Hutchison, once she survives the primary, would have trouble moving to the center, given her strong support for McCain and her association with socially conservative causes.

Of course, Hutchison could continue running a stealth campaign, scoop up funding from the development and business community, and run as one of the few hopes for the GOP to rebuild itself. She might even try a variant of the Palin approach, presenting herself as an outsider and a maverick who will give both parties fits. The county is ripe for someone with a big, stiff broom. Hunter has the in-your-face, Microsoft-honed personality, but the other Democrats seem pretty mild-mannered for the role of angry change-agent.

David Brewster is founder of Crosscut and editor-at-large. You can e-mail him at david.brewster@crosscut.com.


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