A couple weeks ago, King County certified the results of the August 2021 Top Two election, formally setting the stage for the general autumn this election, in which voters in Washington State’s most populous jurisdiction will be choosing leaders for hundreds upon hundreds of local offices… from King County Executive to Seattle Port Commissioner to city council, school board, and hospital board positions.
Among the contests that is widely expected to be fiercely contested is the race for King County Council, 3rd District.… a suburban/exurban/rural slice of King County that has been represented by Republican Kathy Lambert for decades.
In its current incarnation, the 3rd stretches from Redmond and Sammamish at its western edges to the county’s eastern border, encompassing small towns like Skykomish, Duvall, and Carnation in addition to larger (but still somewhat small!) cities like Snoqualmie and North Bend. Much of Issaquah is also in the district, which overlaps with parts of the 45th, 41st, 5th, and 48th legislative districts, along with the 1st and 8th congressional districts.
The 3rd has historically been Republican turf, but in recent years, its populous western side has been enthusiastically voting for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, making it a prime Democratic pickup opportunity.
In a previous post here on The Cascadia Advocate, I explained how King County’s Eastside suburbs have been undergoing a slow motion political transformation from Republican bastion to swing territory to progressive Democratic stronghold. As a consequence of steady Democratic gains at the local, state, and federal levels, there are almost no Republicans left in elected office in King County.
Lambert is one of the very few who remain, along with her Council colleagues Pete von Reichbauer and Reagan Dunn. (King County offices are officially “nonpartisan,” but there’s no taking partisanship out of politics — the partisan dynamics remain despite the absence of party labels on the ballot.)
In past cycles, Lambert has either drawn only token challengers or no challenger at all, allowing her to easily romp to reelection. But this year, she’s opposed by one of the hardest working Democratic activists on the Eastside: Sarah Perry, a disciplined organizer with a background in nonprofit development and community building. Perry cruised past fellow Democratic challenger Joe Cohen in the Top Two election to secure a spot opposite Lambert on the general election ballot.
Collectively, Perry and Cohen received 59.40% of the vote, while Lambert received just 40.09% — a poor showing for a longtime, well known incumbent.
Perry (who I have donated to, and strongly support, in my capacity as an individual activist) also improved her position in the late ballots, climbing from 34.03% on Election Night to 36.01% by certification. She finished just two thousand and sixty-eight votes behind Lambert in the elimination round.
And, notably, in a sign that Lambert could indeed be headed for defeat this autumn, Perry also beat Lambert in her home precinct in Redmond.
Despite splitting the Democratic vote with Cohen, Perry still emerged as the plurality winner in RED 45–2382, according to the certified results.
She received one hundred and thirty-five votes overall in the precinct, while Lambert received one hundred and five. Cohen received sixty-five votes.
Perry was also the plurality winner in most of the other Redmond precincts in the district. She won in downtown and across much of Education Hill, although Lambert managed to obtain a plurality in a few precincts.
Why was Perry was able to do so well on Lambert’s home turf? Primarily because Redmond is one of the most progressive cities in the state, and its residents understandably want progressive representation, which Lambert is not providing.
People vote for who they identify with and who they trust, and Perry is running a dynamic, people-powered campaign focused on canvassing, empowering small businesses, and unifying communities behind Washington’s progressive values.
She’s also talking about getting results for the district, something Democrats contend Lambert is falling short on. For example, many of the roads in the 3rd are in extremely poor shape. Lambert has — to her credit — been sounding the alarm about this sorry state of affairs for years. However, she hasn’t been able to secure the funding needed to allow the King County Department of Transportation to properly maintain and resurface the county’s rural road network.
Perry believes that if the 3rd is represented by a hardworking Democratic leader like her, the district will stand a much better chance of getting the resource infusion that it needs. The neighboring 6th District has certainly benefited from the clout of its Democratic councilmember Claudia Balducci, who currently chairs the King County Council and serves on the Sound Transit Board of Directors.
Voters picked Balducci to replace longtime Republican Jane Hague six years ago in a race with dynamics similar to this one. Balducci was easily reelected in 2019 to a second four-year term on the Council. Interestingly, Balducci’s share of the vote against Hague was about 59% — the same margin collectively achieved by Cohen and Perry against Lambert in the Top Two. While not all of Cohen’s voters may back Perry in the general, Perry is still well positioned to win if most of them do.
And there may be more Democratic voters turning out to vote this autumn than there were this month and last month in the elimination round.
While most of the 3rd’s precincts went to Lambert or Perry (with Lambert doing the best in the eastern reaches of the district and Perry performing best in the west), Cohen was able to swing a few precincts into his column. He was the plurality winner in a few places in Redmond, Issaquah, and Sammamish.
The image below visually documents Perry and Cohen’s strength in the 3rd’s westernmost precincts, which are the most populous areas of the district in addition to being the most Democratic. The image is a still from this wonderfully interactive, zoomable map created by Jason Weill of Tableau that shows the results of the Lambert-Perry-Cohen contest by precinct.
Note that this map does not adhere to the usual blue vs. red dichotomy, where blue signifies the Democratic ticket and red signifies the Republican ticket. Instead, in this map, precincts with a red/rose colored tinge are precincts where Perry finished ahead and precincts with a blue tinge are precincts where Lambert finished ahead. Orange-tinged precincts are those where Cohen led.
In a piece published last month for The Washington State Wire, reporter Aaron Kunkler took a look at the race for the 3rd, which quotes from both me and former Tim Eyman attorney Mark Lamb of Bothell.
We had very different takes on the election results:
The most dynamic of the county council races is in the Dist. 3 race, where long-time council member Kathy Lambert is bringing in just under 41% of the vote. It’s not an ideal number for an incumbent, said Andrew Villeneuve, director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, who normally hope to see upwards of 50% support.
Lambert is running against Sarah Perry and Joe Cohen, both challengers from the left who garnered 31% and 24%, respectively. The position is non-partisan, but Villeneuve said the district — which has switched from red, to purple, to blue over the past two decades that Lambert has represented it — may be primed for a more liberal candidate.
“Why should anyone be terribly surprised that she’s not doing that well,” he said. “To me, all it was going to take is one credible candidate.”
But Mark Lamb, former Bothell city council member and founder of the North Creek Law Firm, said he thought Lambert was in a strong position.
“With a different politician, I would be more concerned with those results,” Lamb said. “With Kathy Lambert, she’s very smart, she’s very hard working, and I think she will be able to move in the general election and prevail.”
So you’re not worried at all, eh Mark?
It’s not unheard of for an incumbent who does really poorly in the Top Two to bounce back in the general election and win. It has happened before.
But this is King County’s 3rd County Council District we’re talking about… not, say, Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, where Jaime Herrera Beutler recovered from a weak showing in the 2018 Top Two to win reelection. King County’s 3rd is a Democratic district, whereas Washington’s 3rd leans Republican.
Herrera Beutler was able to recover three years ago primarily by locking down Republican voters who’d backed a different Republican candidate.
My guess is that Lambert already has the Republican vote… all of it.
Lambert needs Democratic votes to win in November. She needs people who don’t share her values to back her for another term.
If she is so smart and hardworking, then why didn’t she do better in the elimination round? Why didn’t she get more Democratic voters to back her?
She has name recognition that Perry and Cohen — who have not run for office before — don’t have. She also has a large campaign war chest. And she has long been good at showing up at community events and nonprofit functions.
Yet she only got 40%. Democratic voters clearly shunned her. Including, as mentioned, a majority of voters in her own Redmond neighborhood.
In all, nearly three-fifths of her voting constituents either backed Perry or Cohen when they filled out their ballots this summer. And in the late ballots, as noted above, Perry saw gains, whereas Lambert didn’t.
All the evidence we have suggests that Lambert is headed for defeat this autumn. It’s not a given because anything can happen in an election.
But it’s the most likely scenario considering the dynamics: an entrenched Republican incumbent, an increasingly Democratic district, and a strong Democratic challenger in Sarah Perry, who herself is the epitome of “smart” and “hard working.” We saw this kind of campaign play out six years ago in the 6th with Jane Hague and Claudia Baldduci. Now it’s the 3rd’s turn.