Just as Rossi Republicans are wondering what hit them, and concluding it was King County, so Oregon Republicans are licking their wounds over Multnomah County (Portland). The two states have an eerie echo, and one that defines Northwest politics.
In Washington, Dino Rossi carried the non-King part of the state by 92,000 votes, but lost King County by 36-64 percent, or 150,000 votes (so far). This despite the fact that Rossi, from Issaquah, has some local strength, particularly in the Eastside, and ran a somewhat moderate campaign — soft-pedaling social issues like abortion and cold-shouldering the Tea Party candidate, Clint Didier. As The Seattle Times' Jim Brunner points out, the adage still holds true: You can see all the votes you need from atop the Space Needle.
In Oregon, former Portland Trailblazers' basketball star Chris Dudley hoped to break the Democratic lock on the Portland area, only to get shellacked by former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber. The margin in Multnomah County, with one fifth the state's voters, was 72-28 for Kitzhaber. Splat.
There's a valuable analysis of this by Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian. He quotes political analysts who explain that all the Democrats really need to do is whip up enthusiasm in the Portland area and turn out the vast Democratic majority. In this, ballot measures aimed at the Democratic or younger vote are a help. (Look for lots of marijuana initiatives in 2012, to rally this vote.) This vote gets stirred up at the end, catching statewide Republicans by surprise in the final weeks.
Republicans have a hard time in the Northwest getting this big-city vote to defect. One reason, cited by Mapes, for this pattern is the way the country has sorted itself out by lifestyles. Formerly, cities such as Seattle and Portland had a strong manufacturing base, with Reagan Democrats part of the population. The rest of the state was also less uniformly Republican. That's changed rapidly in the last decade. "Lifestyle liberals" drawn to these cities are now very hard for Republicans to appeal to, without alienating their base voters.
The result, of course is greater polarization, as well as a greater isolation of the urban centers from their state legislatures. The same pattern applies across the country. After looking at the exit polls, New York Times columnist Charles Blow concludes there is what he calls "a great American cleaving":
According to exit polls, Tuesday’s vote continued a trend, reaching a record low percentage of self-described liberals who voted for Republican candidates for the House of Representatives, and a record low percentage of conservatives who voted for Democratic candidates. Ideology is slowly becoming rigidly prescriptive, and political transcendence is becoming less and less possible or admirable.