Why the GOP tide fell short in Washington state

Among many reasons, two stand out: the more liberal composition of the state's electorate and the Democrats' firewall in Seattle.

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi Courtesy of Rossi campaign

The counting is now nearly done.  Time for one last look at the election of 2010.  As I wrote earlier, the Republican wave which gave the GOP control of the U.S. House and a net gain of nearly 700 state legislative seats sloshed into Washington state and took out some vulnerable Democrats, but wasn’t powerful enough to oust Patty Murray and other Democratic veterans.  Turnout and the lack of an “enthusiasm gap” played a part, as did the simple fact that Washington state is less conservative than the nation as a whole.  So what does this election portend for the future of two-party balance in Washington state? 

Unless recounts overturn the extremely close races for a state House seat in the 25th district and a state Senate seat in the 41st district, Republicans will end up netting gains of one seat in Congress, four seats in the state Senate, and five seats in the state House. 

In the state Senate, Democrats were unable to mount serious challenges to Sen. Pam Roach, or to Rep. Doug Ericksen, who easily held on to a GOP open seat in Whatcom County.  Republicans targeted appointee Randy Gordon in the 41st district (Mercer Island), and four Democratic freshmen.  They defeated Gordon and three of the four freshmen, while Sen. Steve Hobbs in the 44th district narrowly survived his first re-election.  The GOP also went after three veteran Democratic incumbents, but went 0 for 3 in those races. 

In the House, Republicans retained three competitive open seats, and easily re-elected freshmen Jan Angel and Mike Hope in competitive districts.  There were four Democratic seats open in competitive districts; the GOP picked up one of them.  Only two Democrats in competitive districts faced their first re-election this year; the Republicans won one of those races.  And 13 Democratic veterans faced competitive races, with the GOP winning wining only three of those contests. 

In the U.S. Senate race, Sen. Murray defeated Dino Rossi by 4.7 percent.  Rossi’s loss came in urban Puget Sound.  Compared to his dead-heat governor’s race in 2004, Rossi did slightly worse in Pierce and Snohomish counties, and cratered in King County where he received only 35 percent of the vote.  In 2004 he lost King by 18 points, in 2008 he lost it by 28, and in 2010 he lost King County by 30. 

So why did Patty Murray and so many other Democrats survive while their colleagues were falling around the country?  The first answer is turnout.  Statewide and in King County, 71 percent of voters returned their ballots.  In contrast, in 2006, our last mid-term election, turnout statewide and in King County, was 65 percent.  It seems pretty clear that at least in Washington state, Democrats turned out to vote, nullifying whatever “enthusiasm gap” existed nationwide.  Was this the result of the Democrats’ ground game, the switch to all-mail voting, or fear that Sen. Murray was in real danger of losing based on late polling?  My guess is it was a mixture of all three. 

Exit poll data, however, makes it clear that something more fundamental caused the Republican gains here to be modest rather than massive:  Washington is simply slightly more liberal than the nation as a whole.  Big surprise, right?   

Nationally, 35 percent of those who voted considered themselves Republicans, 35 percent Democrats, and 29 percent independents.  In Washington the numbers were 23-35-42 for Republicans, Democrats, and independents, respectively. Nationally, 20 percent of voters described themselves as liberal; 38 percent moderate; 42 percent conservative.  In Washington it was 30-35-36.

Nationally, 41 percent of voters viewed the GOP favorably, 53 percent unfavorably.  In Washington it was 35-58. Nationally, 44 percent of voters viewed the Democratic Party favorably; 52 percent unfavorably.  In Washington the results were 50-46. Finally, nationally, 44 percent of those who voted approve of the job President Obama is doing; 55 percent disapprove.  In Washington state it was 51-49. 

The wave wasn’t as big here because there just aren’t as many conservatives here as there are in other parts of the country.  Dino Rossi’s numbers among Republicans, Democrats, independents, conservatives, liberals, and moderates closely matched the national trends.   Rossi won virtually all the conservatives, lost all the liberals, and trailed by 15 percent among moderates.  Nationally, Republicans lost the moderate vote by 13 percent, yet still won.  The difference for Rossi was in the composition of the Washington state electorate.  


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 8:19 a.m. Inappropriate

The damage done to this state's Republican party by Ellen Craswell and her fall-on-their-swords supporters is only now starting to dissipate, and the reason is certainly the top-two primary system. After Craswell's troops took over the caucuses and conventions in this state, there was a tremendous surge in popularity of the Libertarian party, a natural refuge for those who believe in limited government and personal freedom. In fact, the inrush of secular former Republicans also served to moderate some of the Libertarian fringe elements (such as those who advocate that insurance companies own police and fire departments) and thereby made that party even more appealing.

The top-two primary killed Washington's burgeoning Libertarian party.

So where do the people go who think that the best thing government can do for them is to leave them the hell alone? Certainly not to the party of Jim McDermott or Nancy Pelosi. The success of Dino Rossi within the state Republican party is a strong indication that the era of the sky pilots may be drawing to an end. If so, those who made the Libertarian party respectable in this state may make the Republican party competitive again.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate

"or, more likely, attracting more moderates to the national Republican message." Yes, Chris, more moderates will be very attracted to the national Republican message. Oh by the way -- what's the Republican definition of moderate these days? PUH-LEEZE!

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Washington State is very, very dependent on the Government for jobs, aid, support. Washingtonians expect superior Government services, yet pay something like 25 percent of the property taxes that major East Coast states do.

So, in effect, Washington state lives off handouts and redistributions from the Federal Government and hence went with "Earmark Patty" for another six years.

Ironically, the main reason she was reelected -- earmarks -- are going away, so I think ultimately, Washingtonians not only deluded themselves about the Gravy Train continuing to role, but isolated themselves from the greatest populist transformation in Government in the last 50 years.

It's not only that we don't have a voice at the table, but our citizens are not participating in the process and redistribution of power.

Those voting Democrat, hoping to hold back a tide, now have no life jackets.

jabailo

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

jabailo, where are your sources for this claim about federal subsidies?

Look at http://www.visualeconomics.com/united-states-federal-tax-dollars/

Washington state gets 88 cents in return for every dollar it sends the feds. Look at the top states in that report--all repub red states. Progressives are subsidizing the tea party via federal taxes!

andy

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 10:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Remember, the announcement of the $5.7 billion deficit came AFTER the election. While other states have new conservative legislatures which will attempt to get their fiscal houses in order, Washington will continue to bleed red ink. The difference in fiscal policies, will be much more apparent in 2012.

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 10:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Until the Republican Party (and Democrats, too) stop extreme partisan bickering and dump the idea that the best move for the Republican Senate is to destroy Obama, I cannot see Democrats moving to Republicans where the word moderate is a dirty one.

jgm

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

The current Republican party strategy is based on getting the lower classes to vote against their own self interests, while maintaining the traditional big business base. They have been successful by handing tax cuts to the rich and simultaneously using 'culture war' issues such as gay marriage and abortion to fool the religious lower classes into supporting these right wing policies.

To capture more Seattle votes, it would be necessary to change this strategy by downplaying the social issues, but that would sacrifice some of the religious votes outside Seattle. This is the razor sharp line that McKenna is walking right now, in his race for governor.

Chris, your articles would be more interesting if you focused more on these overarching strategies rather than just the banal numbers...

andy

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 11:34 a.m. Inappropriate

The last Republican governors - Dan Evans and John Spellman - were moderates, and succeeded in capturing not only independents, but many Democrats. Until the Republican's can put up similarly respectable moderates with the same kind of personal integrity they have no hope.

And yes, Washington state "exports" federal tax dollars, just like Seattle and King County "export" state tax dollars. And the biggest recipients are conservative eastern Washington counties, schools, etc.

SteveC

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

I think when GOP leaders recruit candidates for office, they should consider the future as well as the past. In Rossi, Republicans were taking a candidate who had done fairly well in the past (though without actually winning statewide) but who had no future in case he lost--which he did. If the GOP had been more forward looking, it might have chosen someone like Reagan Dunn, who would have gotten some statewide exposure through this race, and--even if he lost--would have been in a good position to wage future statewide races. Choosing Rossi was shortsighted and leaves the GOP (and the state's voters) fairly impoverished of statewide GOP leaders.

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 2:37 p.m. Inappropriate

If the GOP is going to make any kind of "comeback" in Washington, they had better start coming up with a more viable "farm team." I mean...who can they run against Cantwell who has even a shred of substance? Doc Hastings? He's like George Nethercutt without the pizzazz (that's a joke). The only person with any statewide appeal they have now is McKenna and he's running for Gov...and at this point, I don't see that even he can overcome the King County-Seattle firewall, certainly not against Jay Inslee. Here in Seattle, we just don't want GOPs. And given the kind of GOPs coming out of the rest of the state (and nation) these days, that won't be changing any time soon. Hey GOPs, if your determined to give every one of your candidates a litmus test for right-wing purity, you will stay in the minority in Washington for years and years to come.

TaylorB1

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 3:15 p.m. Inappropriate

TaylorB1 Wrote:
"Here in Seattle, we just don't want GOPs"

You are correct. In fact, I'd stretch that notion from Bellingham to Oly along the I-5 corridor, but I do think the GOP could effectively promote a successful candidate that would have appeal to the voters in greater Seattle region. However a change in GOP candidates will only happen when the current state GOP leaders are deposed or retired and replaced in favor of those who understand the importance of winning versus being idealogically hidebound. The biggest problem the state GOP currenty has is that it is underrepresented by Seattle and other Washington State metro area liberal Republicans who need to assert themselves and and take control of the party leadership. Clearly, the current state of the GOP leadership has neither the ability or desire to win, and at some point this must change.

Bella

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 3:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually, before we begin to accuse the electorate of anything, you might want to look in ever shrinking concentric circles at, well, yourself.

Before we can win anywhere, the infrastructure of the party has to be developed.

For the last decade, I have been calling for a full time, year round minority outreach office in the GOP. We have nothing to counter the dem's claims that we're just a bunch of old white guys and we only express any concerns about the minority population when the GOP needs their votes.

County GOP organizations are an absolute joke. In Pacific County, where Nan Malin's involvement in the party as county chair is exclusively for her use as the GOP social butterfly, including fake positions such as "3rd Congressional District GOP Chair", we have an example of a county where not one single Republican ran for anything.

Not one. Democrat victories in Pacific, Wahkiakum and Cowlitz were assured on filing day for every single elected partisan position, save Cowlitz Commissioner. The result? Rossi was clobbered there, and other counties like Wahkiakum, which also didn't run anyone in the GOP and which served to depress turnout in places where the Republican voters lived in the middle of a depressed turnout location... because they had no one else to vote for and Rossi really, really, wasn't all that to begin with.

The "Suburban Crescent" strategy continues to be an abysmal failure and these infamous words from you, Chris:

"If Dino Rossi chooses to run, the Republican world will line up with Dino Rossi," said Vance. "And that will include the conservative base."

"There have always been Republican candidates who split the Republican base one way or the other. Dino was the one guy everybody loved."

...which flew in the face of reality, given his mishandling of the Didier/Tea Party types... helped to lead to yet another statewide disaster.

All of you manipulations of the figures cannot cover the reality: you and the rest of the Bellevue Mafia badly misread Rossi's support in a year where he should have won in a walk. You know by now that my position was that there was no way Rossi could win, a position I held from the beginning which was re-enforced as every day went by where he SHOULD have announced... but for some reason... arrogance, stupidity, bad advice... SOME reason... he didn't.

And what did that get him?

I'm reminded of the old saw "figures don't lie, but liars figure." Making excuses without addressing the fundamental weaknesses of the party structure that you and the rest of the Mafia are responsible for (in large part) changes nothing.

Your avoidance of responsibility for any of this is palpable. We were clobbered in the ground game, run by incompetents such as Nan Malin, and no one steps up to say: it was on me. We (or I) screwed up, and here are the meaningful ways we're going to fix it.

The GOP was out-hustled, out-strategized and out-smarted. The late, hard right votes were practically non-existent. And the GOP hierarchy is to blame... since the fish rots from the head down.

Kage87Z

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

Can I remind everyone of something? If just 2.5% of the voters - less than three people out of 100 - had chosen Rossi instead of Murray, he would have won. If Rossi had gotten 45% of the vote among moderates instead of 42% he would have won. Republicans are competitive statewide, they just need to do a little better among moderate voters.

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 4:03 p.m. Inappropriate

The reason the GOP sucks in this state, is that we have a smarter populace. We are free thinkers and are able to see reality rather than listening to racist hate mongers on FOX noise, and the drug addict rush dimbaugh radio show. We know when republicans tell us that they are for lower taxes and less government, that they really increase taxes and expand government. We know when ignorant teabaggers are asking the government to keep out of their medicare, that they are misguided souls who listen to corporate America for their political information. We know that when republicans say that they want to take back the country, they really mean get the black guy out of office. We know republicans use social issues like abortion and gay marriage to get radical Christian groups and poor racists to somehow think that they and the corporate republican's have the same interests. We know that when the republicans controlled both houses, the presidency and the supreme court from 2000-2006, that they did nothing do eliminate abortion or the talk of gay marriage, because they really don't care about either. They are just wedge issues. We know that farmers in eastern washington think they are republicans and that the republicans care about them. Wait until they cut the federal subsidies for these poor saps and our food no longer is grown here but rather to the lowest bidder in some third world country. The west coast and upper east coast of this country are the last hope for real America. If we want to take our country back, we need to change the rules and laws about corporations and get them out of politics.

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 4:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Also, if you want to win you don't run a two time loser to become a three time loser.

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 4:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Kage-

Rossi won Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, and he did better in Pacific county than he did in 2004. He won over 90% of the vote among Republicans and those who identified themselves as conservatives. As far as I can tell the base was with Dino 100%.

If you don't like the Party officials in your county, run against them. Those organizational meetings are coming up soon.

And I live in Auburn, not Bellevue.

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 4:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Overstating the "wave" by inaccurate polling doesn't help, either.

http://tinyurl.com/LandlineBias

The gap is growing.

If the poll says you are tied then there is "enthusiasm" to vote. If the polls were accurate, showing Rossi more accurately then I just would not expect as many Republicans voting if the are told he is down by 5 points.
How many other races that polled as close races were helped by just bad polling? Nobody will ever know. What they should know is that the landline only polling will increasingly rely on educated guesswork.

Mr Baker

Posted Mon, Nov 22, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Vance Wrote:
"...they just need to do a little better among moderate voters."

The GOP lost again, Chris. No matter how many "what ifs" one recites, it won't change the fact they lost once again. You and the state GOP don't appear to appreciate what an incredible confidence builder this is to the state Demo's, and how difficult it will be to promote and nuture electable candidates.

You wrote the Democratic firewall is Seattle, yet the Republicans continue to lose in spite of being in the best postion in a decade of reclaiming the state. They should have penetrated that firewall. Why couldn't they? I really think you have to take the leadership of the state GOP to task, and ask them why after a decade they have failed. The state GOP really needs a house cleaning of its leadership. A new leadership with new values needs to find candidates that appeal to the general electorate. It's way past due.

Bella

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 8:03 a.m. Inappropriate

This year's election could very well represent a high-water mark, re the GOP's appeal to and success with moderate voters. A GOP year, an off-year election, a non-Tea Party candidate; the stars were aligned and they still couldn't pull it off.

The problem probably lies within the GOP itself. Candidates who appeal to moderate voters are anathema to the party's right wing fringe, now known as Tea Party. In theory Rossi should've bridged that gap, but he would've needed a personality transplant to make it happen. McKenna has the potential, but he's one candidate running for one office (time will tell which one...). But his latest stands against Health Care for All and fighting the Lands Commissioner suggest a combative posture, one not calculated to broaden his appeal.

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

The GOP failure can be summed up in two words: Dino Rossi.

I think there are plenty of King County residents that could vote for a GOP candidate if the GOP were to put up someone with the quality of someone like Dan Evans. Dino Rossi was an empty shirt who could never really express firm plans or clear ideas on what he wanted to do.

Bring us a Dan Evans, and you'll have your next statewide GOP victory.

sean98125

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Dino Rossi, while technically a strong candidate, is simply too unpopular to win in Washington state. The man has a history of "me-first" behavior--happily working for crooks as a young man, getting into private real estate deals with lobbyists as a legislator, and playing the vulture during the economic downtown by making his living buying and selling foreclosed properties. Dino Rossi has no concept of public service or compassion for people in hard times. The man would literally take your last dollar--and voters in this state see him for what he is. This was the Republicans' best chance in a generation and they blew it.

Mannix

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Another Rossi shortcoming, Mannix, was being such a sore loser in 2004. A gracious exit after the final vote count would've gone a long way towards making him a likeable candidate the next time around.

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Are you saying, R, that Dino Rossi is the Al Gore of Washington politics?

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

No matter how many times Vance and other GOP propagandists repeat the words "wave" or "tide" or claim to represent "the will of people", neither the state or national election results shows any such thing.

Nationally, Democrats retained control of the Senate. In Washington State, they retained control of both chambers. All this in spite of an ailing economy. Take it from a surfer - that's no wave.

Assuming that a) the economy picks up in the next two years, which seems likely given the latest rounds of earnings reports, and b) the GOP continues its drift rightward into loonie territory, the GOP will remain in the margins.

Sean

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

"Can I remind everyone of something? If just 2.5% of the voters - less than three people out of 100 - had chosen Rossi instead of Murray, he would have won."

Can I remind you of something? If just 2.5% of the voters - less than three people out of 100 - had chosen Murray instead of Rossi, her victory would have qualified as a landslide.

What's your point?

Sean

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 3:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Sean-

The GOP is on the margins?

Control the U.S. House
A majority of Governors
A majority of state legislatures

In Washington State the GOP controls 4 of the 9 seats in Congress and is within 3 seats in the Senate and 9 seats in the House.

No wave? The GOP just gained 63 House seats, six Senate seats, 6 Governors mansions, and nearly 700 state leg seats. Here they gained 1 seat in Congress and 9 leg seats.

After the anti-Bush landslides of 2006 and 2008 we are basically back to parity.

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 3:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, SteveC, "The last Republican governors - Dan Evans and John Spellman - were moderates, and succeeded in capturing not only independents, but many Democrats." But that was when the great body of the GOP was moderate, except for fringe elements in the John Birch Society (remember them, Tea Partiers?). Dan Evans and John Spellman, at least as we knew them then, would be entirely unwelcome in today's GOP, labeled RINOs and worse, and their lives would be made miserable if they tried to launch a political career in today's party.

Today's GOP candidates have to make so many compromises and deals with the party's right wing, which is indeed now the center of the party, that simultaneously appealing to the mass of moderate voters, is extremely difficult. And against an attractive and popular Democrat like Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell, damned near impossible.

Posted Tue, Nov 23, 4:36 p.m. Inappropriate


C. Vance Wrote:
"After the anti-Bush landslides of 2006 and 2008 we are basically back to parity."

Not really, Chris. The GOP neither has the Presidency nor a majority of the seats in the Senate. The GOP can't override a veto. What is more of a concern and dangerous to the GOP is that they were elected without having a coherent plan and there is now increased factionalism within the party. The US Federal numbers may look good, but they are likely meaningless.

Bella

Posted Wed, Nov 24, 8:09 a.m. Inappropriate

But Bella, Obama can't pass anything without going through the Republican House. The two sides can veto each other. Parity.

Posted Wed, Nov 24, 8:54 a.m. Inappropriate

But Chris, will the Republican House pass anything that has come from the Democratic Senate? Or anything that has a prayer of getting through the Democratic Senate, i.e. a Compromise...on something...?

Everything I read, the answer to that question is No; Republicans would rather shut down the government, and do anything and everything to make Obama fail, even if the Country is left in a shambles as a result. Your party put up a lot of No Compromise candidates, and many of them got elected. I see disaster ahead.

Posted Wed, Nov 24, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Wrong, Chris. You ignored what I earlier pointed out. The GOP was elected without a coherent recovery plan, and there are real factional divisions within GOP. The US public elected a GOP majority in the House with the expectation they would fix the economy and growing government spending. The public is expecting immediate results, Chris. The onus is on the GOP to produce, but they came to the party without a plan, and the are likely going to be a public backlash if they can't quickly produce. There is no parity in that. Chris, have you ever heard the phrase, "Win the war, but lose the peace"?

Bella

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