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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 20th, 2023

A wide open race for AG: Democratic hopefuls tied, while a third of 2024 voters aren’t sure

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.

Fol­low this link for addi­tion­al method­ol­o­gy details, includ­ing demo­graph­ic data.

NPI and PPP have worked togeth­er for a decade and have a track record of excel­lence, as detailed in this 2022 elec­toral polling recap and this 2020 one.

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.

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