Primary tallies spell trouble for Democrats

Inside Politics: Now that the primary dust has settled, and the vote counts are in, here's how the 2014 political landscape is shaping up.
Tim Sheldon, veteran of many campaigns, survived a close primary.

Tim Sheldon, veteran of many campaigns, survived a close primary. John Stang

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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Posted Mon, Aug 18, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

It seems very odd to this reader that we are relying on Chris Vance, former chair of the Republican Party and still current Republican kingpin in WA, to explain to us 'how the political landscape is shaping up'. Aren't we seeing here a not very subtle way wherein Mr. Vance uses his "news" piece to help push an outcome that he would clearly like to see occur? Shouldn't this be labeled (very slanted) Opinion?


Posted Mon, Aug 18, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree. I only trust political analysis delivered by Democrats.


Posted Mon, Aug 18, 8:54 a.m. Inappropriate

I generally vote the left hand column and yes, Mr. Vance is a GOP cheerleader, but I don't see much of that here. He's put forward his reasoning and I'd have to say he is pretty much on the mark.


Posted Mon, Aug 18, 3:25 p.m. Inappropriate


Contrast the analyses of John Stang, who alerted Crosscut readers to the endangered incumbents Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-15) 75.5%, and Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43) 80%. Vance has not invented close contests when there are none.

Yet Stang is thought to be a journalist!


Posted Mon, Aug 18, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Susan DelBene got more than 50% in an off year primary where Democratic turnout was miserable. How is "this seat in play?"

I'm sure DelBene would like to have won the primary by a more commanding lead, but Celis had the bulk of the conservative money in this race and his vote tally cannot be described as anything other than a disappointing shocker to Republicans. The number of "Vote Pedro" signs in the 1st CD that have been vandalized to read "deport Pedro" doesn't suggest that he'll inherit support from voters who didn't vote for him in the first place.

Posted Mon, Aug 18, 9:28 a.m. Inappropriate

A couple of things:

I have been this sort of analysis for Crosscut for several years.

And the DelBene seat is in play because she is a freshman, the district is competitive, and she got only 51% in the primary.

Posted Mon, Aug 18, 6:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Vance has every reason to gloat. The Democratic challengers just didn't do all that well. Hill's Senate seat is still in play, but only just, and a few House Ds will have to work hard to get re-elected. The notion that Pedro Celis is anything but a weak challenger running in the wrong district is an amusing homer delusion, but most everything else in here is accurate. The voters backed two more years of logjam in Olympia -- and they'll get it.


Posted Mon, Aug 18, 8:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Not gloating. Analysis, not advocacy.

Posted Mon, Aug 18, 9:36 p.m. Inappropriate

To his credit Mr Vance is not arguing that the Republicans will enjoy success in the 2014 election because their policies are widely supported by the public or that they have any ideas to serve the interests of the public that will actually work. No, he tells us their success depends entirely on those who support Democratic ideas and policies not turning out to vote. Did he mention the two gun bills on the ballot which will pull the gun nuts away from their shelters and dehydrated food and into the voting booth?

What I'm looking forward to learning is what they will do if they have majorities in Olympia. Which red state will they emulate? Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia? What approach will they take to limiting women's access to reproductive services? How will they deprive the poor of Obamacare? Right to work? Hell ya--a living wage is tyranny. Fully fund education? You must be kidding. Repair the roads and other deteriorating infrastructure? Not this style of conservatism. And the gays? What would the Taliban do about the gays?

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 6:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Guess what? You're not going to get a California income tax like you "progressives" want. Move south.


Posted Tue, Aug 19, 1:52 a.m. Inappropriate

@thoughts: Agree with you to some extent about the bias -- but it's not for Republicans and against Democrats. His bias is only FOR the establishment Rs who fit his picture of the Bellevue country club republicans. His comment that Newhouse will easily beat Didier is either wishful thinking or trying to push his preferred scenario.


Posted Tue, Aug 19, 6:21 a.m. Inappropriate

At least the Republicans will be able to block the "progressives" at the state level. It's good to see the "progressives" on the defensive. Too bad they're safe in Seattle, but it's only to be expected.


Posted Tue, Aug 19, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate


I think logic would seem to indicate that moderates and Democrats will now mostly vote for Newhouse.

And folks in Bellevue are now voting for Democrats. There aren't many country clubs in rural Republican districts. Politics has changed.

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 5:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Stonier's comeback may well be the largest since the Top 2 Primary began, but Chris Marr trailed Brad Benson by more than 14 points after their 2006 primary, but went on to win the general by 9%.


Posted Tue, Aug 19, 10:07 p.m. Inappropriate

The 2006 primary was not a blanket or top two election. Voters had to choose a part ballot. It was not predictive of anything.

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 3:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Marr had thousands of less voters than Benson in the primary, and thousands of more voters in the general. They were the only two on the ballot in both elections, so it's not as if their votes were being split with other candidates, and Marr's primary percentages were in line with what folks like Laurie Dolan had gotten in previous elections.


Posted Wed, Aug 20, 10:03 p.m. Inappropriate

You miss the point. Primary voters were not free to vote for either candidate because those were the days of restricted primary voting. It didn't last long, we all have full choice up and down the ballot. But in 2006 each voter could vote for only Republicans or only Democrats.

Now we have Top Two. Primary voters narrow the field. How soon we forget.


Posted Wed, Aug 20, 10:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Chris --
Tried to sort our your analysis. Please send me your recipe for hash.


Posted Wed, Aug 20, 10:47 p.m. Inappropriate

They weren't on the same ballot . Voters weren't choosing between them. It was not a preview of the general.

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