NPI’s recent statewide survey of Washington voters has afforded welcome relief from all those cable television pundits jabbering about Georgia and Florida, while refusing to venture a prediction that might come back to bite them.
Alas, the survey, conducted by NPI’s longtime partner Public Policy Polling, has unnerved the Washington State Democratic Party and the state’s progressive movement with its finding that incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal was garnering just thirty percent and leading Maia Espinoza, who would govern as our own local version of Betsy DeVos, by only seven points.
The Democrats have launched an eleventh hour rescue of Reykdal, a former Democratic legislator, combining email missives with a persuasive, upbeat TV spot. The voice of United States Representative Pramila Jayapal (D‑7th District) in praise of Reykdal, followed me up to the study.
But NPI’s survey, the only public poll to look far downballot this year, has a wider value: it provides a political self-portrait of this corner of the “Left Coast”.
Briefly a “purple” state at the start of the century – George W. Bush read from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in Spanish to Yakima school kids – Washington has become reliably blue and is singing the Trump blues.
Sports columnists and political analysts are into the game of “Six Takeaways” these days, so let me do that with NPI’s findings.
Comprehensive sexual health education is popular
Washington is a secular state. Hope spring eternal in the bosoms of the religious right, but Washingtonians have a strong tradition of supporting privacy, the right to do your thing, and both freedom of and freedom from religion.
Such outfits as the Family Policy Center forced a 2009 referendum after the Legislature legalized same-sex partnerships. They lost.
They forced a vote in 2012 on marriage equality. They lost spectacularly, with the lasting visual image of Catholics for Marriage Equality putting five hundred demonstrators on the lawn of St. James Cathedral.
Archbishop Sartain was preaching against what he called gay “marriage.”
The same result is likely this year with sex education. Republicans are running on their opposition. But NPI/PPP found fifty-six percent in favor of Referendum 90, approving sexual health education, with just thirty-three percent opposed.
Democrats are well positioned to win most executive races
The Republican Party has a base in Washington, just not a home base.
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Loren Culp comes in at forty percent, Attorney General hopeful Matt Larkin at thirty-nine percent. The Republicans’ attractive 2016 gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant came in just over forty-five percent.
The base is in Eastern Washington, Central Washington and Southwest Washington. The Republicans can’t get to first base in Central Puget Sound population centers. On rare occasion, like with Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, the right can win with what was called the “boa constrictor strategy in the Slade Gorton era, surrounding and squeezing populous King County.
No deal this year.
Only Secretary of State Kim Wyman registers higher, leading Democratic challenger Gael Tarleton (an NPI boardmember) by a six point margin, with forty-nine percent to Tarleton’s forty-three percent. Republicans have held the position of Secretary of STate since 1965, treating it like an entitlement.
The Republicans’ other statewide officeholder, State Treasurer Duane Davidson, trails Democratic challenger Mike Pellicciotti by a ten point margin, and is likely a goner. Pellicciotti prevailed in the August Top Two election.
Donald Trump is the anvil atop the Republican ticket
Donald Trump is a death star for Washington Republicans, and is likely to leave behind scorched earth on which it will be difficult to get anything to grow.
Trump trails Joe Biden by twenty-three point margin in NPI’s survey, and has a sixty percent job disapproval rating in the Evergreen State.
The percentage who disapprove climbs to seventy-two percent in populous King County, home to Seattle and Bellevue and their suburbs. Only in Eastern and Central Washington does the incumbent’s approval-disapproval rating break even.
Bill Bryant outran Trump by more than 220,000 votes in 2016.
Ask Bill and he will give you the exact figure. Still, he took just under thirty-three percent of the vote in King County. A trio of Republicans on the 2020 ballot – Wyman, Larkin and Culp – run ahead of Trump in NPI’s survey.
How will the Republicans ever climb out of their hole if the party base in Washington consists of a “Trump rump”? Consider all the constituencies, many of them growing, who are excluded from such a base.
King County has become, in a generation, the Democrats’ heartland in Washington, usually joined by growing (population 839,000) Snohomish County. The poll’s figures on Trump job approval tell much of the story. So does the absence of a Republican “bench” in the state’s most populous county.
The Trump approval figures for North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound indicate that, to find the Republican “base,” you must travel one hundred miles north of Seattle (to Ferndale or Lynden), ninety miles south (to Centralia-Chelalis) or cross the Cascade Range to Central and Eastern Washington.
The last Republican state legislators in exurban east King County’s 5th District were beaten in 2018, while even in 2016, two King/Pierce County House seats in the 30th District flipped and Democratic State Senator Claire Wilson was elected to the Senate in 2018, turning out Mark Miloscia. At the same time, Democrats flipped the 47th District, electing Mona Das and Debra Entenman. Republicans do still have three people on the “nonpartisan” county council; but that’s about it.
State Supreme Court races don’t get much attention
Washington voters don’t tune in to State Supreme Court races.
Raquel Montoya-Lewis and G. Helen Whitener, appointed to the high court by Governor Jay Inslee, register at just twenty-one and twenty-two percent support in NPI’s October survey. Opponents David Larsen and Richard Serns are below twenty percent. Still, those figures were higher than what NPI found last spring.
A lot of Washington voters guess in their court picks. Familiar-sounding names carry an advantage. Racism reared its ugly head when a nondescript opponent beat Justice Steve Gonzalez in several Eastern Washington counties.
The result: Last minute campaigns, underwritten by luminaries of the state bar, are often needed to bail out qualified candidates.
NPI alerted KIRO’s Essex Porter to the need for coverage of Gonzalez’s most recent reelection, in which he was opposed by conspiracy theorist Nathan Choi; Porter’s crew subsequently filmed Choi running away from Porter on the street.
Or, as in 2016, a heavy-handed right-wing smear campaign draws support for judges being attacked. Soft-on-crime TV spots rarely work in Washington.
We’re all set for two more years of a Democratic trifecta
The Democrats’ lock on the statehouse won’t get picked this year.
The state has elected five successive Democratic governors, since Democrat and Weyerhaeuser heir Booth Gardner ousted Republican Governor John Spellman in 1984. Inslee is seeking to become only the second Washington governor, after the legendary Dan Evans, to win three successive terms.
Only one state comes close to Washington’s streak: its southern neighbor.
Oregon’s unbroken lineup of Democratic governors began in 1986 with election of former Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt. The Beaver State, at the time, had a tradition of electing partially progressive Republicans to statewide office.
The current incumbent, Governor Kate Brown, hung on in 2018 despite heavy financing of her opponent by Nike founder Phil Knight.
Multnomah County (Portland) has become the Beaver State’s equivalent of our King County, reporting late with top-heavy Democratic majorities.
A pair of admonitions to conclude.
A poll is a snapshot in time. Time change. Washington has two previous three-term governors, Dan Evans and Arthur Langlie. Both were Republicans. (Langlie’s tenure was interrupted by one-term Democratic Governor Monrad Wallgren.)
And NPI has hired itself an honest pollster.
Past surveys by Public Policy Polling detected drops in Barack Obama’s job approval ratings early, as well as foreshadowed the “shellackings” (Obama’s words) that Democrats took in the 2010 and 2014 midterms.
Washington may tilt Democratic, but voters expect Democrats to govern well, with majorities in both the Legislature and executive department. The party must deliver if it wants a steady dose of good news in the future.