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Inside Politics: It wasn't a McKenna crowd that voted

Just as happened across the nation, younger and minority voters who favored Democrats took the trouble to cast their ballots. While Seattle made its voice heard, voting fell in areas that usually help Republicans.
Attorney General Rob McKenna

Attorney General Rob McKenna Courtesy of the Office of Attorney General

I have been waiting to comment on the results of the election until all the votes were counted and we had data divided by legislative district and congressional district. The results at the national level and in the governor’s race were so different than I expected based on polling done by professionals I respect that I wanted to wait and see the total results before drawing any conclusions. But with the counting all but over, one thing is clear: Outside the city of Seattle, turnout in Washington state was down compared to 2008, which created an electorate even less likely to elect what would have been the first Republican governor in 28 years.

By now the narrative of the 2012 election is well known. Non-white and younger voters made up a greater share of the electorate than ever before, and these changing demographics propelled President Obama and Democrats to victory. There is no doubt that is true.  The exit polls confirm it.  But did the percentages change because more blacks, Latinos and young voters turned out, or because more older, white voters stayed home? The latter is the thesis some national analysts are advancing.

In Washington state, ballot return statistics seem to support the notion that Democrats voted and Republicans didn’t, at least not as they have in the past.

Consider this:

Statewide turnout in 2008 was 84.6 percent.  This year it will likely not reach 81 percent.

In 2008, turnout in the city of Seattle was 86 percent.  This year it is at 84 percent and is likely to edge slightly higher.  The 7th Congressional District — Seattle — has so far returned 354,000 ballots, far more than any other district. King County turnout overall is likely to be down only slightly from 2008. So in Seattle and the rest of King County, voters turned out at roughly the same rate they did in 2008.

But look at 2012 turnout compared to 2008 in “Republican” counties: Benton, Chelan, Douglas, and Pierce, down 3 percent.  Skagit, down 5 percent. Clark, Cowlitz, Kitsap, and Spokane, down 6 percent. Lewis and Yakima, down 7 percent.  Grant, down 8 percent; and Franklin, down 9 percent.

This pattern of low turnout in Republican areas occurred in the August primary, but I don’t know any campaign professional who expected it to repeat in the general election.

I have no idea why turnout is down outside the urban core of our state. I do know that the Washington State Republican Party and the Rob McKenna campaign conducted a professional, well-funded get-out-the-vote effort. I don’t think campaign mechanics were the culprit.

According to exit polls, the percentage of young voters and non-white votes rose dramatically in Washington state, just as it did across the nation. As a result, Democrats enjoyed a 13 percent advantage in party identification, even higher than the partisan edge they had in 2008. Clearly, the failure of voters outside Seattle and King County to turn in ballots at the same rate they did four years ago played a major role.

Of course, the election of 2012 was about far more than turnout. Once all the results are in I will offer some thoughts on what happened, and what the immediate future holds.

Chris Vance is a public affairs consultant who lives in Auburn and an adjunct faculty member in the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs. He was chair of the Republican Party in Washington from 2001-06, a King County Council member from 1994-2001, and a state representative from 1991-93. He can be reached at cvapv@comcast.net.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 1:30 a.m. Inappropriate

I suspect that some of that had to do with several the Initiatives on the ballot as much as the candidates. Take marijuana legalization. Marijuana is a young mans drug...over whelmingly used in the 18 to 26 category. Now a college age man might not give a hoot about a candidate, but he sure likes his weed...and while he's voting he'll probably go Democrat. Same with Marriage Equality. It brings out a voter type who is really, really interested in that issue and he'll vote for a Democrat.

Now, you might ask why didn't these initiative then drive conservatives to vote against them? That is because both initiatives were very clever in raising an issue, but not settling it. In fact, the effect of both is to restate what the status quo already is. In Seattle, marijuana is already decriminalized...and I suspect that it is de facto decriminalized in the rest of the state. Same with "marriage equality" which simply changes the meaning of a word, while offering no additional rights beyond the existing domestic partnerships.

So, yes, by adding these (supposedly) trigger initiatives to the ballot it helped to bring out the vote.

What about the two-thirds majority for new taxes? Isn't that a Republican driver? No, because the Washington State Republicans, while running on fiscal solvency have never really been the type of super budget busting firebrands of the sort that independents or Tea Partiers want to hear. I have been in many local republican meetings where I asked and asked why as Republican would our leaders vote for such extravagances like super highway projects, and tunnels and light rail and the answer has been a blank look...complete puzzlement!

So when it comes real government solvency and fiscal responsibility, Washingtonians have no party or candidate to turn to, they can only try and vote (for what, the 8th time?) to limit the power of government to tax (until the scoundrels overturn it yet again).

jabailo

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

"Take marijuana legalization. Marijuana is a young mans drug...over whelmingly [sic] used in the 18 to 26 category."


Interesting take. I don't personally know of marijuana use by anyone in that age category (probably because most close acquaintances I have in that age category tend to refer to me as "Uncle") but I know plenty of people who came of age in the 60s, 70s and 80s that use it. Some regularly, some a few times a year, some once every few years. If anything, my experience is that the proverbial "kids these days" are a rather more sober lot (figuratively and literally) than those of us who grew up in the thrill-seeking seventies.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Nov 23, 1:13 p.m. Inappropriate

As of 2010: One in five 18-25 year olds had used pot in the last month. One in 10 between 26 and 34. One in 30 people over 35. One in 200 people over 65. And Asians are about one-third as likely to use pot as everyone else, which might help explain their math performance.

http://tinyurl.com/bd83dyc

NotFan

Posted Sat, Nov 24, 1:05 a.m. Inappropriate

By "scoundrels" I imagine you mean the State Supreme Court, because that's who will decide the constitutionality of the 2/3rds majority.

sarah90

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Or the state legislature, which overturns it every two years because the Washington State Democratic Party is addicted to higher taxes.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 6:40 a.m. Inappropriate

But the initiatives didn't increase turnout. Turnout in Seattle stayed the same, while turnout in the rest of the state dropped.

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 7:10 a.m. Inappropriate

OK, turnout dropped in those Republican counties, but did the Republican percentage drop also? Or did the lower turnout affect both parties?

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 7:39 a.m. Inappropriate

No, McKenna's percentage is ahead of Rossi '08 and Rossi '10 in pretty much every county.

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Two words: Mitt Romney. There were a certain percentage of three Republican groups -- Tea Party activists, Ron Paul supporters and, most important, Evangelicals -- that were simply never going to vote for Mitt Romney. Of course, they weren't going to vote for Obama either. A block of those R voters simply chose not to cast ballots, which, in turn, cost Rob the election. When Romney was nominated, I thought it would reduce Republican turnout by 5-10 percent and that our only hope was that Democratic apathy might match those numbers. Unfortunately for Rob, it didn't.

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

The optimistic view is that there are still moderate Republicans out there who didn't like the anti-science, anti-woman, and libertarian messages so many national Republican candidates and pundits were espousing.

MAW

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

I question your characterization of Pierce as a Republican County. In 2008 Pierce County voter turnout was 81%. Obama carried the county with 55% of the vote to McCain's 43%. This year voter turnout was 79%. Obama carried 54% to Romney's 43%. Even in 2004, Kerry carried Pierce County with 50% of the vote compared to 48% for Bush. Note that the slight drop off from 2008 to 2012 was of Democratic; not Republican voters. Still, Mckenna carried Pierce County defeating Inslee by 3 points.

Given the margin's of victory in Pierce County for Obama, Cantwell, Heck, Kilmer,Smith and Goldmark I think you would have to say that Pierce is at least a D +2 and McKenna carried the county by picking up Democratic crossover votes--just not enough to overcome Inslee's strength in King County.

quiller

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Was Romney the problem? Maybe. But polling before the election didn't show a lack of enthusiasm among Republicans.

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 1:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Romney deftly managed the difficult task of keeping the hard right on the reservation without alienating the moderates -- mainly by signaling to the hard right in advance that his moderate debate comments should be understood as tactically necessary lies. But still, neither camp was truly in love with him, and the slightly depressed Republican turnouts no doubt reflected that. McKenna appeared to be too much of a Romney clone to generate excitement as a separate political entity -- a bright, wonkish, slightly puritanical suburban technocrat with little passion and no dirt under his fingernails.

So in the end a shared hatred of Obama proved to be less of a unifying motivator than right wing strategists had hoped. The GOP's dilemma thus remains unresolved: nominating someone centrist enough to have a chance at winning risks creating tepid enthusiasm in the base.

Also, the simple fact that everyone understood Romney to be an opportunistic liar might have been a factor in the outcome. After all, the hard right markets itself as being the faction of High Principle. Perhaps a few fools too many took this nonsense seriously and stayed away from the polls out of disgust. If so, that's not necessarily a bad sign. Call me old-fashioned, but I always believe that a decent regard for truth will produce good results in the long run.

woofer

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 4:14 p.m. Inappropriate

There was a little bit of backlash on a few of the right-wing Republican websites from evangelicals who felt betrayed by McKenna's more-or-less pro choice stance on abortion and Reagan Dunn's pro-marriage equality stand. UltraChristian Stephen Pigeon got enough votes in the AG primary to show that Reagan's stance cost him about one-fifth of the R base.

The Republicans can't move forward and they can't move backward, as the Cantwell experiment showed. And the bench is even emptier than before, at least in this state.

Mannix

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 4:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Chris,

I live and vote in rural Snohomish County. My precinct is Lake Howard.
Raw vote totals won't be available until the final CANVAS is complete,
but with 627 registered voters, and a County turnout of 78.5 percent,
Obama beat Romney 52% to 44%, (235 to 199) McKenna beats Inslee 54% to 46%, (139 to 201). R-74 lost, 200, yes to 238, no. Marijuana passed, yes 249, no, 192.

Over the years I would describe my precinct as fiscally conservative, moderately Republican, hyper-aware of growth issues because of water quality impacts to the 7-Lakes and Port Susan.

McKenna ran well, but not well enough. He lost Snohomish County. The national Republican Brand probably sank him in Everett and S. County,
and certainly in the big media markets of King County.

If he ran as well in King as he ran in my precinct, he'd be Governor.

Ross Kane
Warm Beach

Ross

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 8:42 p.m. Inappropriate

If your voters don't vote, you've run a losing campaign.

Rob McKenna was beaten by Jay Inslee by something like 80,000 votes.

Obviously, not enough Republicans voted for McKenna to win.

There do not appear to be enough Republicans for McKenna to win.

McKenna turned out to be capable of drawing a few Democrats and independents his way, but he could not run far enough from the T-Party and Mitt Romney to get any more.

This election makes sense: The reasonable people prevailed.

Jan

Posted Thu, Nov 22, 9:35 a.m. Inappropriate

No Jan, the reasonable people feel major dismay that the Republican party has dissolved into such unreasonableness.

I think the Republican party is too destroyed to resurface with credibility. I also think the Democratic party is nearly there too.

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 10:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Karl Rove and the Koch brothers were a huge turn-off for me right from the get-go.

s_calvert

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 3:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Anyone who says it like you did never would've voted for any Republican candidate, no matter what.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Nov 21, 10:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Chris,

Ooops! Typo above. McKenna got 239 votes to Inslee's 201.

Plus Jan makes a very good point: The results make sense.

Ross

Ross

Posted Wed, Nov 21, 8:46 p.m. Inappropriate

The national Republican party as personified by Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann and the Koch Brothers in the year long presidential primary just doesn't play well in Washington State. Witness the extent that the GOP was clobbered up and down the state ballot.
To survive in this state, the GOP has to come up with a unique West Coast brand and not be afraid to buck the tide set by the midwest and deep south troglodites. Rob McKenna sealed his own doom when he decided to side with the national party and its big donors and join the lawsuit against the national health care law. After that worry about who and where people voted became a sideshow.

Lytton

Posted Wed, Nov 21, 9:29 p.m. Inappropriate

I haven't studied the numbers but would offer the armchair speculation that McKenna would have fared better if he had run a post-partisan campaign (e.g., more in line with that of Kim Wyman). McKenna seemed to have much more room for doing so than Romney, partly because Washington's top-two primary gave the Republican right wing less veto power than in the old days.

McKenna clearly made strategic decisions early on to build ties with the Republican base at the potential expense of independent and Democratic-leaning voters. I wonder how much that reflected McKenna's instincts or whether he was talked into it by the catsup oracles.

Why does that matter? Because McKenna could still have a state-level political future if -- deep down -- he is a post-partisan. But he can't get away with trying to fake it. He needs to show a genuine commitment to reaching across the partisan divide in order to break policy logjams. That's going to require courage. Perhaps he might take a closer look at the political career of Eisenhower . . . or even George Romney.

Posted Sat, Nov 24, 12:58 a.m. Inappropriate

I would've been more inclined to vote for McKenna if he'd ran as an Independent. Also the commercial with a bunch of old guys in a coffee shop mocking Inslee I think was ill advised.

That didn't really say, I'm concerned about education, college affordability, or opportunity for young people.

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 3:28 a.m. Inappropriate

College affordability will soon be solved by a massive expansion of online education. It will fully expose the rampant inefficiency of higher ed, and the ensuing restructuring will cut costs by at least 75%. I wouldn't want to be a college employee when the tsunami hits.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Nov 22, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

The Republican party has changed, and not for the better. It has morphed into something so ugly and non-moderate, that even the candidates in the party seem uncomfortable.

Why do we need parties to identify with, other than money, anyway? Thinking out of the box is going to have to occur, sooner.

Posted Fri, Nov 23, 3:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Why won't anyone state the obvious, which is that McKenna had the personality of a garden slug, and that his campaign did a terrible job of cultivating middle of the road Democrats?

NotFan

Posted Sat, Nov 24, 1:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Actually, McKenna had the personality of a garden snake.

It's interesting seeing the Republicans trying to determine why they lost -- in state after state, race after race, on issue after issue.

The answer is that the Republican party has turned into a mean bunch of know-nothings, and surprise surprise, Americans just about everywhere noticed.

sarah90

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, but what accounts for the WA State electorate's endorsement of Eyman's tax limitation in every single county? It would seem that the Democratic Party is indulged like the pack of children it is, but its parents keep their wallet locked up because we don't trust you.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Eyman spins fairy tales- and they are fun to believe in, and easy to vote for. But they have no real clout- even republicans, like McKenna realize that you still have to tax the public to pay for the services the public demands.
So while there have been some devastating cuts due to Eyman's follies, the long term effect is not locking up the wallet- its merely shifting taxes around to pay for necessities.
Somehow, sales tax, property tax, B&O; tax, use tax, local levies, and many more taxes still exist, and adults like this democrat (well, really onotological anarchist, but there is no box to check for that on my ballot) just keep paying all those taxes, irrespective of Eyman and his endless attempts to somehow remake reality.

Ries

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 5:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Translation: The "progressives" of Seattle feel free to ignore any initiative they don't like. Well, let's see the WA Supreme Court strike this one down, then. They're elected too, and if they overturn the law they'll be wiped out next time around.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 2:13 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan--The supreme court might uphold the undemocratic Eyman BS, but even if they don't, either way it will not got a single one of them unelected. Having the right last name (e.g., Smith) is far more important than the specifics of their judicial decision making. It took considerable effort to get the extreme libertarian, racist, and environmental cretin Richard Sanders off the high bench and keep him off.

louploup

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't know about Sanders's rulings or statements about the environment, but I thought it was ridiculous for the "progressives" to deem him "racist" for telling the truth about crime.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Nov 24, 12:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I would say that McKenna did a terrible job of cultivating middle of the road REPUBLICANS.
Remember, this is a state where Republicans created the first Department of Ecology in the USA at the State level, where Republicans were always active in the Sierra Club, where republicans have been largely prochoice for decades.
I know some middle of the road Republicans, as opposed to Tea Party types- and they, too, have gay kids and friends, they, too, dont find pot to be the gateway drug to Stalinism- and many of them found McKenna's pandering to the extreme right just as distasteful as middle of the road Democrats did.

Ries

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 5:31 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't usually watch gubernatorial debates, but I did it this year. McKenna never portrayed "pot to be the gateway drug to Stalinism." Both he and Inslee opposed legalization, and neither of them did so stridently.

But I do think there's something to be said about McKenna and "pandering to the extreme right." He didn't do it in his campaign, but he certainly did it when he joined the lawsuit against Obamacare. I blame the WA Republican Party as much as McKenna. As critical as I am of the phony "progressives" of the Democratic Party, the Republicans are at least as bad in their own way. When is someone going to tell the wheat farmers in East Dogshit, Washington that their litmus tests have made them unelectable statewide for years?

But there is something else to say, which is that everyone commenting here is couching their commentary in deep political-speak, when in reality most voters aren't nearly as wrapped up in all of it. People make their decisions for all kinds of reasons, many of which would appall all of us.

In McKenna's case, I couldn't help but be repelled by his utter lack of likeability. I found myself rationalizing it away, telling myself that I wasn't voting for dinner guest. But still, the man put the "cold" in "cold fish." This is the kind of thing that any competent political consultant can usually fix, so I remain mystified that McKenna couldn't at least fake it for a while. No one will ever nominate me for fashionista of the year, but couldn't someone tell that dork to get himself a better haircut, a suit that fits, a new pair of glasses, and a voice coach to work on all the squeaking? How hard is it, for God's sakes? The average car dealership wouldn't let a mess like that out on the floor. And given that McKenna's been running for governor forever, he wouldn't have been had to spring it all at once in April. He had plenty of time to graduate from high school, or at least to clean himself up enough to find a prom date.

Just as bad, and actually worse from my viewpoint, was the McKenna campaign's evident lack of outreach within King County or Seattle, to people who ordinarily vote Democratic but for one reason or another have become dissatisfied. Last year's budget drama was outrageous. The WA Democratic Party deserved to get its ass kicked up one side of the block and back down the other for their arrogance and irresponsibility. It wouldn't have required a lot of negativity, either. Just a repeated determination to do the people's work. I didn't hear it from the Republicans, and I'm amazed by that. It was their strongest issue, and they basically ignored it.

Inslee was lazy, and preached to the choir. In the dictionary next to the phrase, "empty suit," there ought to be a picture of Jay Inslee. He's truly an insult to the WA electorate from a political party that has been getting away with this kind of crap for way, way too long. Unfortunately, the Democrats can afford to do that in this state. But a Republican can't. You'd think McKenna, or the people around him, would have known this. They tried to soften the rough edges on policies, but they never gave it any personal oomph, and no outreach. Come on, Kemper Freeman, put down the third Manhattan and get serious, would you?

I think Inslee was a weak candidate. He's not very smart, and he had no ideas of any kind that I could discern. All he did was check every interest-group box. He shouldn't have been very tough to beat. As far as I'm concerned, it was McKenna's election to lose. WA State Republicans need to get a lot sharper about King County and Seattle. There are all kinds of opportunities here for people who will think outside the box, quit forcing their candidates to check every box, and find someone a little more personally appealing than last week's mashed potatoes. There are thousands of people in the city and the county who are looking for an excuse to vote Republican, but the Republicans are going to have to provide it.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 10:53 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan, the taxes that Ries mentioned are not new taxes. As old taxes, they don't contravene the 2/3rds majority legislation. Would you prefer that "progressive" not pay them?

sarah90

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 10:54 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan, the taxes that Ries mentioned are not new taxes. As old taxes, they don't contravene the 2/3rds majority legislation. Would you prefer that "progressive" not pay them?

sarah90

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 8:36 a.m. Inappropriate

I dont live in Seattle, so I am pretty removed from whatever "progressives' in Seattle do or dont do- but I have seen the courts, and the elected legislators in Olympia, overturn and end run around the unrealistic Eyman initiatives again and again- and I would consider them adults with control over wallets.

It has been proven again and again that people will vote for free candy- if there ever was a case of the electorate expecting "gifts" and "stuff", its when they vote for Eyman's seemingly no strings attached free stuff initiatives.

And then, again and again, adults in Olympia have to figure out ways to pick up the pieces and actually run the government.

As a famous libertarian crank wrote, (one who spent most of his adult life getting paid by the government), TANSTAAFL.

Ries

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 6:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Eyman has never offered "free stuff." He, along with majorities in every single county of the state, have been trying to put a flaming sword in front of the bank accounts that the phony "progressives" have been trying to raid every chance they get. You keep losing, and you keep whining.

Will you ever get the message? We don't want to slide into the mess than California is in. WA State's voters are real bastards that way. Stay away from our wallets, loser.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 9:09 p.m. Inappropriate

As a former resident of California, I can tell you the mess California is in is because of arbitrary restrictions on raising taxes, resulting in millionaires living in multimillion dollar homes, and paying $1000 in yearly property taxes.
Eyman intitiatives are exactly what will make us slide into the mess California is in.

Ries

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 3:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Sorry, but WA State voters have told you and your "progressive" buddies that we'll have no income taxes, and that the legislature must get two-third support to raise other taxes. If your "progressive" WA Supreme Court overturns the latest Eyman initiative, we will toss them onto the street. If you don't like it, move to L.A. where you belong.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I have enjoyed the sifting and winnowing of reasons for McKenna's defeat and many good points have been made. For me, though, there are two single points that doomed his race. One was his joining our state in the anti-health care cadre of Republican AG's. It signaled that he was one of "them" and not one of "us." The other was his choosing to go to the Tea Party event in Olympia and say words that Inslee could use to prove that McKenna was one of "them." People in this state just will not embrace a Republican who aligns himself with the current rightwing, know-nothing national party. If McKenna wanted to win, he could have openly embraced the great tradition of the Republican party in Washington, connected himself with Dan Evans and the other GOP progressives of his day. The problem is even greater statewide, because McKenna had to be on the same ballot with Koster, Baumgartner and other super-right (super un-electable) candidates.
Ironically, this was the time for McKenna to win. The state in my opinion is weary of endless Democratic governors (not antagonistic, just weary), and McKenna without those horrible decisions, should have swayed enough moderates to win the election.
The Republican party needs a major talk session among itself about how to present themselves to the electorate in this progessive state.

Spike

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