Next year, voters in Washington will be choosing a new Attorney General to serve as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, because incumbent Bob Ferguson is running for governor. So far, two highly qualified Democratic candidates have launched campaigns to seek the job: State Senator Manka Dhingra, a Northwest Progressive Foundation boardmember, and former U.S. Attorney Nick Brown.
We decided to put them and a hypothetical Republican opponent up against each other in this month’s autumn survey of 2024 likely Washington voters to see how the race for AG is shaping up, and found that neither Democratic candidate has yet established an advantage over the other. That suggests that Brown and Dhingra will be heading into the new year on a pretty even footing.
In the survey, consisting of 700 interviews with likely 2024 Washington State general election voters, Dhingra had 14%, Brown had 13%, hypothetical Republican opponent Paul Graves had 38%, and 34% were not sure.
We included Graves in our question because we expect Republicans to find a candidate for this important office by May of 2024, when the filing period arrives, and we’ve heard Graves’ name floated in Washington State political circles as a possibility. Given that no Republican has even filed paperwork with the PDC to seek this office so far, the odds don’t seem high that the party will have more than one credible candidate interested in taking on Dhingra and Brown.
If Graves were to run for Attorney General with no Republican opposition, our polling suggests that he’d easily pick up the support of Washington’s Republican voters. 38% is exact the same percentage that Donald Trump and Raul Garcia received in our survey — it corresponds to the portion of the Washington electorate who reliably vote Republican in partisan contests.
Brown and Dhingra haven’t run statewide before, so neither is well known to voters, which accounts for the significant number of undecided respondents.
Dhingra has been elected three times in the 45th Legislative District, which includes parts of Redmond, Kirkland, and Sammamish as well as Duvall in east King County, and is a member of Senate Democratic leadership.
Brown, meanwhile, has some name familiarity of his own thanks to his recent stint as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.
Each has raised about half a million dollars so far for their campaign. Brown’s receipts total $497,880.11, while Dhingra’s total $500,885.91.
Brown has spent $142,402.72 and Dhingra has spent $236,622.08.
There is one other person besides Brown and Dhingra who has filed with the Public Disclosure Commission as a candidate for AG: independent Elizabeth Hallock. Since Hallock has not reported raising or spending any money and doesn’t appear to have an active campaign, she was not included in our question.
Washington uses a “Top Two” election system to decide who appears on the general election ballot. As the name suggests, the top two vote getting candidates advance regardless of party. It only takes a plurality to win in the Top Two; the runner-up gets the second available spot. Especially if Republicans were to fail to field a candidate, as they shockingly did in 2016 for this office, or if they end up fielding too many candidates who cancel each other out, it is possible that Dhingra and Brown could end up facing each other next November.
But perhaps a likelier scenario is that either Dhingra or Brown gets through the Top Two along with a Republican such as Graves.
Here’s the exact text of the question we asked and the responses:
QUESTION: If the election for Attorney General of Washington State were being held today and the candidates were Democrat Manka Dhingra, Republican Paul Graves, and Democrat Nick Brown, who would you vote for?
- Paul Graves (R): 38%
- Manka Dhingra (D): 14%
- Nick Brown (D): 13%
- Not sure: 34%
Our survey of 700 likely 2024 Washington State voters was in the field from Tuesday, November 14th through Wednesday, November 15th, 2023.
The poll utilizes a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines (42%) and online answers from respondents recruited by text (58%).
It was conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Northwest Progressive Institute, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.7% at the 95% confidence interval.
Background on the position
The position of Attorney General is established in the Washington State Constitution as an independently elected office. Unlike at the federal level, the AG is not appointed by the chief executive and confirmed by the Senate, but is rather chosen by the voters. Here’s what the Constitution says about the job:
ARTICLE II, SECTION 21. ATTORNEY GENERAL, DUTIES AND SALARY. The attorney general shall be the legal adviser of the state officers, and shall perform such other duties as may be prescribed by law. He shall receive an annual salary of two thousand dollars, which may be increased by the legislature, but shall never exceed thirty-five hundred dollars per annum.
That last bit about the AG’s salary has since been superseded by another part of the Constitution that deals with salaries for elected officials.
As you can see above, the Constitution expressly says that the Legislature can prescribe the AG’s duties by law, and it has done so in RCW 43.10.030, which specifies eleven specific responsibilities of the position, including appearing before and representing the state in cases that come before the appellate courts.
Because the AG is the state’s chief legal officer, they are responsible for bringing enforcement actions against companies that violate Washington’s consumer protection and data privacy laws, and they are often in the news.
Just this morning, incumbent Bob Ferguson’s team announced that hospital chain PeaceHealth will be refunding up to $13.4 million to more than 15,000 low-income patients of its five western Washington hospitals.
“The refunds are a result of an Attorney General’s Office investigation into the hospital chain’s financial assistance and collection practices. Ferguson’s investigation found that PeaceHealth billed thousands of low-income patients who likely qualified for financial assistance without informing them of their eligibility,” the Office of the Attorney General announced in a news release.
AGs often become future gubernatorial candidates
As mentioned, current AG Bob Ferguson is running for governor of Washington. His most recent two predecessors did that too: Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna ran in 2012, losing to Jay Inslee, while Democratic Attorney General Chris Gregoire ran in 2004 and narrowly beat Dino Rossi. (Gregoire beat Rossi again in 2008 by a more comfortable margin in a big wave year for Democrats.)
Consequently, holding this office is a priority for the Democratic Party, since the next Attorney General of Washington could become a candidate for governor in a future cycle, like 2032. Democrats currently hold every position in Washington’s executive department, which means they have a deep bench of candidates for top offices, while Republicans have a thin to nonexistent one.
More polling to come
We’ll continue to keep an eye on this contest throughout 2024. Perhaps by the time our next statewide survey fields, Republicans will actually have one or more declared candidates and we’ll have a fuller field to ask voters about.