Over the last few days, I’ve heard several people predict that Washington’s 2012 gubernatorial race would likely be as tight as the 2004 contest between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi, which dragged on for weeks as ballots were counted and recounted. It doesn’t look like that will be the case; Jay Inslee has a lead of 50,209 votes as of this morning, and we think his lead is only going to grow larger.
But there is another statewide race that’s very close.
Democrat Kathleen Drew and Republican Kim Wyman are each vying to succeed Sam Reed as Secretary of State (the state’s chief elections officer) and they each have roughly half of the vote as of this morning. Wyman took the lead midway through the evening last night and hasn’t relinquished it, but she doesn’t have much of an edge: Drew is only 14,243 votes behind her.
We project that within the next few days, Drew will catch up with Wyman and then go on to reclaim the lead.
What’s the basis for this projection? It’s simple, really. If you look at the county-by-county breakdown, you can see that Drew is winning in some crucial swing counties, especially Snohomish and Whatcom — but also Jefferson, Grays Harbor, and Pacific. She’s not winning by much in any of those places, but she is ahead, and that matters a great deal… because in vote-rich King County, she’s crushing Wyman.
As regular readers of The Advocate know, I often say that statewide races are not won or lost in King County. They are decided in the all-important swing counties, where much of the state’s population resides.
Sometimes, the swing counties are uniformly aligned against King County, and when that happens, King County gets outvoted. But when the swing counties are divided, as is the case in this race, King County often gets to decide who wins.
We saw this dynamic at work four years ago in the race for Commissioner of Public Lands. Democrat Peter Goldmark eked out a victory over Republican Doug Sutherland primarily by winning Snohomish, Jefferson, and Whatcom. Goldmark lost many of the same swing counties Drew is currently losing to Wyman. But it didn’t matter. He did well enough in north Puget Sound to allow King County voters to decide the race. Sutherland was kicked out of office and Goldmark took over.
Goldmark’s percentage of the vote in 2008 in King County closely correlates with Drew’s percentage of the vote in King this year (61.88% vs. 61.71%).
If Drew can protect her lead in the five swing counties she’s currently got, King can put her over the top. That’s our forecast.
Wyman, of course, can’t be counted out. She is doing well in her home county of Thurston, and she has decent-sized leads in important swing counties like Pierce and Spokane. She also has commanding leads throughout eastern Washington. But in other swing counties, her lead is not so impressive.
In Kitsap, she’s only seven hundred and seventy-nine votes ahead of Drew. In Cowlitz, she is only ahead by five hundred and fifty-seven votes.
Drew has competed well enough outside of King County to win this race, Goldmark-style. And we think she can do it.
If she pulls it off, she will become the first Democratic Secretary of State in more than fifty years. And Democrats would hold all ten statewide positions for which party affiliation is listed on the ballot: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, lands commissioner, insurance commissioner, attorney general, and the state’s ten U.S. Senate seats.