Seal and Outline of The Great State of Washington
Seal and Outline of The Great State of Washington

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.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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