The counting is over, and the ballots tallied since primary election day have brought more bad news for Washington State Democrats.
Pedro Celis, the Republican favorite in the 1st Congressional District, survived the top two primary, keeping this seat in play.
Tim Sheldon, the Democrat who votes with the Republicans in the State Senate, also survived the primary, which probably takes this seat out of play for the Ds.
In the State House, a number of Republican incumbents who once appeared endangered now appear safe; a number of Democratic incumbents who looked safe now find themselves in competitive races.
And, most importantly, none of the key races for the State Senate improved for the Democrats. In fact, late counting put another Democratic seat, the 44th district, in danger. Democrats will have to defy history if they are to take back the Senate.
So what happened?
All year I have observed that there was no significant tide running for either party so far. That’s still true, but in hindsight I failed to anticipate the effect of this year's (predictably) extra-low turnout in Washington State. This is the first state/federal election since 2002 that does not include a race for Governor or U.S. Senator. The lack of a marquee, top-of-ticket race generates less interest and lower turnout. Only 31 percent of the state's voters returned their ballots in the primary — far, far below the norm for a primary election.
In this era, low turnout favors Republicans. Democrats need votes from young people, the less affluent and non-white voters. A low turnout usually favors the GOP, and that is exactly what we saw in the primary. Republican candidates who barely campaigned racked up impressive results due entirely to turnout.
Can the Democrats rally as turnout rises in the general election? Yes. But history shows that there is a limit to how far a candidate can come back after a disappointing primary result.
Two years ago, Democrat Monica Stonier received 45.4 percent of the vote running against two Republicans in Clark County’s 17th legislative district. Stonier bounced back and won by 139 votes. That is the biggest comeback win in Washington State’s recent history; and it was accomplished with the help of a super-high presidential election turnout and Barack Obama heading the Democratic ticket. Turnout will be higher in November, but it will still be lower than in any such general election since 2002.
I expect that history will continue to be a reliable guide. It is highly unlikely that any candidate who received less than 45 percent of the primary vote (alone, or in aggregate with other members of his or her party) is going to be elected.
Given that, here is where the key races stand now:
1st and 4th Congressional Districts
Pedro Celis, the anointed Republican challenger to freshman Democrat, Suzan DelBene, nearly suffered a humiliating defeat in the primary. Now, the conventional wisdom is that the primary revealed Celis as a weak challenger. But DelBene (below), the only D on the ballot, received just under 51 percent, which means she is vulnerable. Can Celis find a message that will connect with voters and make a case to replace an incumbent? And if so, can he raise enough money to deliver it? For now, this race continues to lean Democratic.
As expected, former State Rep. Dan Newhouse and Tea Partier Clint Didier have advanced to an all-GOP final in the battle to replace Doc Hastings in central Washington’s 4th CD. Nothing has changed since election night. Newhouse is the heavy favorite to win this seat, as Didier is unlikely to win the votes of Democrats or moderates.
Our state’s other eight members of Congress are on the road to easy re-elections.
State Senate Outlook
To gain two seats and retake control of the Senate floor Democrats will have to come back from a roughly 10-point deficit in two races, and/or defeat Sen. Tim Sheldon in an all-Democrat final in the 35th district. Possible? Yes. Likely? No. Today, it appears the Majority Coalition will maintain its 26-23 advantage.
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