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.