Is is something in the water?
R-71, the gay partner benefits referendum, looks to be passing statewide (51 percent yes, 49 percent no), driven by the "yes" vote in 10 of Washington's 39 counties, all of them bordering the Salish Sea. In fact, only two counties on Puget Sound did not approve it: Pierce and Mason.
Compare that with the state spending and anti-tax initiative, I-1033. The Tim Eyman measure was defeated all around Puget Sound, again with the exception of Pierce and Mason counties. Yet, as of now, it's also going down to defeat (55 percent no to 45 percent yes) in more than half of the state's counties, including some in central Washington (Kittitas and Yakima), and nearly all of southeastern Washington, a generally Republican enclave (outside Spokane), including strongholds like Lincoln and Adams counties.
Support for gay rights is strong in Puget Sound country, and that has made the difference. But much of normally fiscally conservative Eastern Washington joined the Wetside in opposing Eyman's restraints on government spending and decision-making. The Dryside has benefited from huge state and federal projects (irrigation, dams, farm subsidies). In fact, in some counties, like Garfield, public-sector jobs are the biggest employer (Garfield rejected Eyman with a 60 percent "no" vote).
While there's a sense that red states and counties often don't vote their self-interest, maybe the Great Recession has brought a dose of realism. In Republican Adams county, R-71 was going down 73 percent to 27 percent, but so was the anti-tax measure 58 to 41. They may not be ready for almost-gay marriage, but they're also not ready to kill off government.