Senator Maria Cantwell campaigning
Senator Maria Cantwell campaigning

The Ever­green State is like­ly to remain safe Demo­c­ra­t­ic ter­ri­to­ry in next year’s elec­tions for Unit­ed States Sen­ate, if the results of NPI’s lat­est statewide sur­vey of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers are any indication.

As most read­ers prob­a­bly know, our state elects all of its exec­u­tive depart­ment posi­tions in pres­i­den­tial years, so in midterm years, if there’s a mar­quee race of statewide impor­tance, it’s a Unit­ed States Sen­ate contest.

But it does­n’t look like next year’s Sen­ate race will be very com­pet­i­tive. The Repub­li­cans haven’t found a chal­lenger for Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent Maria Cantwell yet, but we fig­ured the strongest can­di­date they could pos­si­bly recruit would be for­mer State Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rob McKen­na, the last Repub­li­can to run for either gov­er­nor or U.S. Sen­a­tor here who got more than 47% of the vote.

So we decid­ed to pit Cantwell and McKen­na against each oth­er in a hypo­thet­i­cal matchup. Here is the ques­tion we asked, and the answers:

QUESTION: If the elec­tion for U.S. Sen­ate were held today and the can­di­dates were Demo­c­rat Maria Cantwell and Repub­li­can Rob McKen­na, who would you vote for?


  • Maria Cantwell: 53%
  • Rob McKen­na: 40%
  • Not sure: 6%

As we can see, Cantwell has a healthy thir­teen point lead. 53% of respon­dents said they would vote for her, while only 40% said they’d vote for McKenna.

It is worth not­ing that Cantwell’s lead here is just as strong, if not stronger, than ear­ly polls from the last cycle pit­ting her against Repub­li­can State Sen­a­tor Michael Baum­gart­ner, her even­tu­al 2012 oppo­nent. (Cantwell ulti­mate­ly crushed Baum­gart­ner in the Novem­ber 2012 gen­er­al elec­tion, 60.45% to 39.55%.)

A Sur­veyUSA poll tak­en from Novem­ber 21st-23rd, 2011 found Cantwell with 51% sup­port and Baum­gart­ner with 39%. In that same poll, for gov­er­nor, McKen­na received 44% sup­port and Jay Inslee received 38%.

In sub­se­quent sur­veys con­duct­ed by Sur­veyUSA as well as Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling and oth­er poll­sters, Cantwell’s sup­port remained steady, with around 51% of respon­dents con­sis­tent­ly say­ing they’d vote for her. Then, in the autumn, her sup­port­ed jumped into the mid to upper fifties. The Wash­ing­ton Poll pinned her sup­port at 61% just pri­or to the elec­tion, which close­ly tracked the offi­cial result.

Elec­tions can be dif­fi­cult to pre­dict, and we can’t be sure of what will hap­pen in the Novem­ber 2018 midterms, but this data rein­forces our belief that Repub­li­cans will be hard pressed to find a can­di­date who can give Cantwell a seri­ous chal­lenge, let alone unseat her. The elec­toral land­scape next year is unlike­ly to be favor­able to them and Wash­ing­ton has­n’t elect­ed a Repub­li­can to the U.S. Sen­ate in decades.

McKen­na only reg­is­tered at 40% in our sur­vey, and it’s hard to think of a more com­pelling can­di­date for the Repub­li­cans than McKenna.

Repub­li­cans already tried field­ing one of the mem­bers of their state Sen­ate cau­cus against Cantwell in the last go-round (Baum­gart­ner), and he flopped. Their bench isn’t deep, so it would seem they don’t have a lot of options.

Cantwell, mean­while, is mak­ing the most of her time at home dur­ing the Fourth of July con­gres­sion­al recess to engage with con­stituents.  She has three Seat­tle-area town halls planned this week: one tonight (on health­care), one on Fri­day (on net neu­tral­i­ty), and anoth­er on Sat­ur­day. All are open to the pub­lic but require tickets.

NPI’s sur­vey of 887 like­ly 2018 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from June 27th-28th, 2017; all respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed via land­line. The poll, con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling, has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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