NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Monday, November 7th, 2022

Patty Murray’s King County advantage is important, but Snohomish is the bellwether

Lin­da Smith could­n’t do it.

George Nether­cutt could­n’t do it.

Dino Rossi could­n’t do it.

And Chris Vance could­n’t do it, either.

For Repub­li­cans, though, the dream of beat­ing Wash­ing­ton’s senior Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray lives on. Time and again, they insist she’s vul­ner­a­ble and spend a huge amount of mon­ey against her… so far, with­out success.

Tiffany Smi­ley and her oper­a­tives claim that this year will be dif­fer­ent. One recent Smi­ley ad fea­tures vot­ers who have sup­pos­ed­ly vot­ed for Pat­ty Mur­ray four times say­ing they can’t and won’t do so again. But are the indi­vid­u­als in these ads rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the broad­er Wash­ing­ton elec­torate? Data sug­gests no.

Cred­i­ble Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber 2022 polling indi­cates that Mur­ray has a ten point or greater lead over Smi­ley statewide. Mur­ray is poised for a vic­to­ry greater than the one she had twelve years ago when her oppo­nent was Dino Rossi.

Mur­ray’s advan­tage in King Coun­ty is huge: sev­en in ten vot­ers there backed her can­di­da­cy in August. A sim­i­lar fig­ure, 68%, said they were vot­ing for her in both the King Coun­ty sub­sam­ple of our mid-Octo­ber 2022 statewide poll as well as in our more recent coun­ty­wide poll, which fin­ished field­ing last week.

Repub­li­cans have per­formed poor­ly King Coun­ty for many cycles now, a trend that Seat­tle Times Dan­ny West­neat focused on in his most recent col­umn, head­lined: Sor­ry, every­where else: The election’s going to come down to King Coun­ty.

West­neat is cor­rect that King Coun­ty is home geo­graph­i­cal­ly to a piv­otal and large bloc of vot­ers. King Coun­ty has become increas­ing­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic as the Repub­li­can Par­ty has mor­phed into an extrem­ist enti­ty with auto­crat­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics, which is a huge prob­lem for any Repub­li­can run­ning statewide.

How­ev­er, if Repub­li­cans were as dom­i­nant every­where else as Democ­rats were in King Coun­ty, then the Demo­c­ra­t­ic advan­tage in King Coun­ty would not be the huge obsta­cle for Repub­li­cans that it is. If you want to know why Tiffany Smi­ley’s chances against Pat­ty Mur­ray are poor, then look to Sno­homish County.

Sno­homish, locat­ed to the north of King, is the state’s third largest coun­ty by pop­u­la­tion. It’s home to cities like Everett, Lyn­nwood, Mount­lake Ter­race, Edmonds, Marysville, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, and Arlington.

The trio of King, Sno­homish, and Pierce (the lat­ter is the sec­ond largest coun­ty by pop­u­la­tion) account for a huge major­i­ty of Wash­ing­ton State’s pop­u­la­tion, and are some­times col­lec­tive­ly referred to as Cen­tral Puget Sound.

Mur­ray has­n’t always won Pierce Coun­ty, but she has always car­ried Sno­homish… always. And there’s a strong like­li­hood that she will again this year.

The key to Demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­toral resilience in Wash­ing­ton State isn’t just King Coun­ty, con­trary to what the head­line of West­neat’s col­umn implies. Rather, it’s the abil­i­ty to con­sis­tent­ly car­ry impor­tant swing coun­ties like Sno­homish, which has been known to lurch to the right now and again, such as in 2019, when it backed Tim Eyman’s I‑976, vot­ed down I‑1000, and elect­ed Adam Fortney.

Repub­li­cans have to do real­ly well across many swing coun­ties to suc­cess­ful­ly fol­low Slade Gor­ton’s “boa con­stric­tor strat­e­gy” for coun­ter­ing King Coun­ty’s elec­toral strength. Democ­rats, mean­while, don’t need a sweep of the swing coun­ties to win. They just need to pre­vent Repub­li­cans from run­ning the tables out­side of their strong­holds in King, Jef­fer­son, and San Juan.

Mur­ray has shown she can do this every six years.

Here’s Sno­homish Coun­ty’s vot­ing history:

Regard­less of who her Repub­li­can oppo­nent has been, Mur­ray has man­aged to reel in a major­i­ty. Even in cycles that were dif­fi­cult for Democ­rats, like 2010.

Dino Rossi came clos­er to Mur­ray than Rod Chan­dler, Lin­da Smith, George Nether­cutt, or Chris Vance, but even he could­n’t pre­vail across the swing coun­ties. Mur­ray kept Sno­homish in her col­umn and also won What­com, Kit­sap, and Thurston. Besides the usu­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic strong­holds of King, San Juan, and Jef­fer­son, she also car­ried Grays Har­bor and Pacif­ic. That was enough to off­set Rossi’s advan­tage in thir­ty out of Wash­ing­ton’s thir­ty-nine counties.

Grays Har­bor and Pacif­ic might not be with Mur­ray this year. They were long Demo­c­ra­t­ic bas­tions, but have increas­ing­ly gone Repub­li­can. It would­n’t be sur­pris­ing if Smi­ley won them this year along with oth­er rur­al counties.

But if Mur­ray holds onto Sno­homish, pre­vails in a few oth­er swing coun­ties like What­com and Kit­sap, and keeps Smi­ley at bay at Pierce Coun­ty, King Coun­ty will be in a posi­tion to pro­vide a rea­son­ably com­fort­able mar­gin of victory.

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