NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Maria Cantwell well ahead of Rob McKenna in potential U.S. Senate matchup, NPI poll finds

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.

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