Keith Wagoner speaking at a campaign event
Keith Wagoner speaking at a campaign event (Campaign photo)

An extreme­ly weak field of Repub­li­can can­di­dates for Sec­re­tary of State is prov­ing to be no match for Wash­ing­ton State’s unfor­giv­ing two-part gen­er­al elec­tion sys­tem this year. With three counts now com­plet­ed, it looks like Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent Steve Hobbs will be fac­ing unaf­fil­i­at­ed can­di­date (and Pierce Coun­ty Audi­tor) Julie Ander­son this fall, leav­ing Repub­li­cans shut out of the final round for an office they con­tin­u­ous­ly con­trolled from the 1950s until last year.

In most states, this dynam­ic would be unheard of, because across much of the Unit­ed States, vot­ers get to par­tic­i­pate in real pri­maries to choose the major par­ty’s nom­i­nees for dif­fer­ent offices. Those nom­i­nees then appear on the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot, rep­re­sent­ing their respec­tive par­ties. But not in Washington!

Here, there is no pri­ma­ry at all. Instead, there is a two-part gen­er­al elec­tion in which the top two vote get­ters advance out of the first round, regard­less of par­ty. (It is called a pri­ma­ry by state and coun­ty offi­cials, but that does­n’t make it one.)

Since Wash­ing­ton does­n’t guar­an­tee the major par­ties spots on the Novem­ber bal­lot for a giv­en office — with the notable excep­tion of Pres­i­dent and Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States — the par­ties have to be uni­fied and dis­ci­plined to avoid the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being shut out of the gen­er­al elec­tion for a key office.

Democ­rats enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly ral­lied around Sec­re­tary Hobbs, Gov­er­nor Inslee’s choice to suc­ceed Sec­re­tary Kim Wyman, who resigned last Novem­ber to take a job with CISA. Hobbs has over 40% of the vote against a sev­en-can­di­date field and is way out ahead in first place. Mean­while, Repub­li­cans splintered.

A total of three can­di­dates iden­ti­fy­ing as Repub­li­cans filed against Hobbs in May — State Sen­a­tor Kei­th Wag­oner, for­mer State Sen­a­tor Mark Milos­cia, and Bob Hag­glu­nd — along with a fourth (semi) Repub­li­can can­di­date with a split iden­ti­ty: con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist Tam­borine Bor­rel­li, who dubbed her­self on the bal­lot as aligned with the Amer­i­ca First (R) Par­ty. (In real­i­ty, there is no such enti­ty: Bor­rel­li invent­ed the label, which state law unfor­tu­nate­ly allows her to do.)

None of the Repub­li­cans became a prop­er fron­trun­ner for their par­ty, result­ing in a night­mare for Repub­li­cans: a three-way vote split among right wing vot­ers that’s allow­ing Ander­son to skate right on by the entire Repub­li­can field.

2022 special election for Washington Secretary of State

Results as of 08/04/2022 6:00 PM

Steve HobbsSteve Hobbs

Demo­c­ra­t­ic | 600,934 votes

Julie AndersonJulie Ander­son

Oth­er | 193,954 votes

Keith L WagonerKei­th L Wagoner

Repub­li­can | 178,738 votes

Bob HagglundBob Hag­glu­nd

Repub­li­can | 177,709 votes

Mark MilosciaMark Milos­cia

Repub­li­can | 146,978 votes

Marquez TiggsMar­quez Tiggs

Demo­c­ra­t­ic | 115,062 votes

Tamborine BorrelliTam­borine Borrelli

Oth­er | 63,365 votes

Kurtis EngleKur­tis Engle

Oth­er | 5,288 votes


Some­thing sim­i­lar has hap­pened in each of the past two cycles in which a statewide exec­u­tive office was on the bal­lot. In 2016, three Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates for Trea­sur­er split the Demo­c­ra­t­ic vote so well that two Repub­li­cans were able to get past them and make it to the gen­er­al election.

And in 2020, three Repub­li­can can­di­dates for Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor can­celled each oth­er out, result­ing in a gen­er­al elec­tion con­test between two Democrats.

2016 taught Democ­rats a les­son, and they demon­strat­ed that they had learned from it in 2020, when they put up a sin­gle, strong, cred­i­ble can­di­date for Trea­sur­er: Mike Pel­lic­ciot­ti, a ris­ing star in the par­ty who served two terms in the State House. Pel­lic­ciot­ti pre­vailed, becom­ing the only Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger to a statewide Repub­li­can incum­bent to win pret­ty much any­where in 2020.

Repub­li­cans don’t seem to have learned a sim­i­lar les­son. They can curse the bad, vot­er-approved Top Two sys­tem, but they can’t change their fate now.

In the past, Repub­li­cans ben­e­fit­ed from what you could call the Thurston Coun­ty to state capi­tol pipeline: A vet­er­an Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State would retire (like Ralph Munro) and pass the baton to the Thurston Coun­ty Audi­tor (like Sam Reed or Kim Wyman) who would then run statewide to keep the office in Repub­li­can hands. The par­ty would unite behind that can­di­date and reap the ben­e­fits of hav­ing a rea­son­able Repub­li­can with elec­tions expe­ri­ence as the stan­dard bearer.

Democ­rats, how­ev­er, extin­guished that pipeline a few years ago by get­ting Mary Hall elect­ed as Thurston Coun­ty Audi­tor. Hall was one of sev­er­al indi­vid­u­als con­sid­ered to be Wyman’s suc­ces­sor by Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee, along with Hobbs, Ander­son, and King Coun­ty Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise. Hall has endorsed Hobbs to serve out the remain­der of Wyman’s unex­pired term.

Wash­ing­ton State has oth­er coun­ties with Repub­li­can audi­tors, but none of them want­ed to take on Hobbs. That left a vac­u­um, which var­i­ous Repub­li­cans tried to fill. One of them was Wag­oner, a state sen­a­tor from a rur­al dis­trict that spans parts of Sno­homish, Skag­it, and King coun­ties. Wag­oner declared ear­ly and secured the sup­port of Reed and Munro, who were cru­cial sur­ro­gates of Wyman’s, but then squan­dered his advan­tage by rais­ing very lit­tle money.

For a while, Wag­oner’s main com­pe­ti­tion was just fel­low Repub­li­can Bob Hag­glu­nd. But dur­ing Fil­ing Week, fun­da­men­tal­ist Mark Mil­so­cia, who has run unsuc­cess­ful­ly twice for Audi­tor, jumped into the race, see­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty. Milos­ci­a’s entry had the effect of frac­tur­ing the Repub­li­can field even fur­ther, increas­ing the like­li­hood of dis­as­ter in the August Top Two election.

NPI’s June 2022 polling con­firmed the per­il fac­ing Repub­li­cans. In that sur­vey, we found 17% sup­port for Hobbs and 56% unde­cid­ed, with every­one else mired in the sin­gle dig­its. Wag­oner reg­is­tered at an ane­mic 6%, Hag­glu­nd, Bor­rel­li, and Ander­son clocked in at 5% each, and Milos­cia received a pathet­ic 2%.

Hav­ing raised so lit­tle mon­ey, Wag­oner could not go up on tele­vi­sion and intro­duce him­self to vot­ers. But Ander­son, who was ful­ly pre­pared to take advan­tage of the odd dynam­ics of a Top Two elec­tion, could… and did.

Ander­son­’s pre­pared­ness, work eth­ic, and strate­gic invest­ment in vot­er com­mu­ni­ca­tion paid off. She’s get­ting enough sup­port in the vote-rich coun­ties that bor­der Puget Sound to claim that sec­ond place spot.

Ander­son is Hobbs’ clos­est rival in King, Pierce, Thurston, What­com, and Kit­sap coun­ties. In Pierce Coun­ty, she has of the vote. In King, she has 13.01%. In Thurston, 14.18%. In What­com, 13.97%. In Kit­sap, 13.51%.

Until today, Wag­oner (who has the sec­ond place spot in Sno­homish and Skag­it coun­ties) was­n’t even in third place. He final­ly over­took Bob Hag­glu­nd today.

Hag­glu­nd’s posi­tion as the ini­tial top vote get­ter among the Repub­li­can can­di­dates left many observers sur­prised. Hag­glu­nd has lit­tle name famil­iar­i­ty and has­n’t run a high pro­file cam­paign. But ear­ly Repub­li­can vot­ers who were not impressed with either Wag­oner or Milos­cia grav­i­tat­ed to him. He’s actu­al­ly win­ning sev­er­al small coun­ties out­right: Lewis, Grant, Lin­coln, Fer­ry, Colum­bia, Garfield, and Asotin. He’s also in sec­ond place in Grays Har­bor, Pacif­ic, and Wahkiakum.

In Feb­ru­ary, months before Milos­ci­a’s entry in the race, we test­ed a hypo­thet­i­cal three-way matchup between Hobbs, Wag­oner, and Ander­son. Hobbs had a plu­ral­i­ty lead, with Wag­oner in sec­ond and Ander­son a dis­tant third.

Three way matchups are not allowed in the gen­er­al elec­tion by state law, but we includ­ed Ander­son in our ques­tion because she was a cred­i­ble can­di­date with the poten­tial to go fur­ther than an inde­pen­dent can­di­date usu­al­ly would.

Fac­ing Hobbs plus a well-fund­ed Repub­li­can with the stature of Wyman, Ander­son would prob­a­bly have been elim­i­nat­ed in this round. But this is Wash­ing­ton State in the year 2022. Kim Wyman is gone, hav­ing tak­en her tal­ents and expe­ri­ence to the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, and she left no Repub­li­can heir appar­ent behind her.

That means there will con­tin­ue to be no Repub­li­can in Wash­ing­ton’s exec­u­tive depart­ment dur­ing the remain­der of this pres­i­den­tial cycle. It’s the lat­est embar­rass­ing elec­tion fias­co for the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty in a cycle that has been a dis­ap­point­ment so far on pret­ty much every 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.

Adjacent posts