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 20th, 2023

Big plurality of voters unsure about crowded 2024 race for Commissioner of Public Lands

Who should replace Hilary Franz as Wash­ing­ton’s next Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands? That is one of the impor­tant deci­sions that Ever­green State vot­ers will have to make in next year’s huge­ly con­se­quen­tial pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which will decide not only what kind of fed­er­al gov­ern­ment the coun­try will have for the next few years, but what kind of gov­ern­ment Wash­ing­ton State has as well.

With Franz leav­ing the exec­u­tive depart­ment to run for Con­gress, there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty for some­body else to take the helm of the Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources (DNR), which man­ages the state’s for­est lands and aquat­ic lands.

A large field of can­di­dates have declared for the posi­tion over the past six months, includ­ing five Democ­rats and two Repub­li­cans. The group of Democ­rats have lit­tle statewide name recog­ni­tion, but they hope to make a favor­able impres­sion with Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers just like Franz did back in the 2016 cycle.

They have their work cut out for them. Accord­ing to our lat­est poll of the Wash­ing­ton elec­torate, a big plu­ral­i­ty of vot­ers (48%) aren’t sure who they’d vote for if the elec­tion for this office were being held today. Repub­li­can Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler got the most sup­port of the group of sev­en with 18%, fol­lowed by fel­low Repub­li­can Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen (Franz’s 2020 oppo­nent) with 14%.

The five Democ­rats, mean­while, were all the sin­gle dig­its, which we fig­ured they would be when we designed the sur­vey. If you’re a vot­er tak­ing a poll, it can be hard enough to pick from between two can­di­dates from your par­ty you haven’t heard of before — choos­ing from between five is a whole ‘nother lev­el of difficult.

The dan­ger for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is that when vot­ers do decide who they want to sup­port, they grav­i­tate in rough­ly even num­bers to three or more of the five can­di­dates, which would split the Demo­c­ra­t­ic vote so bad­ly that Her­rera Beut­ler and Kuehl Ped­er­sen would end up advanc­ing to the gen­er­al elec­tion, lock­ing the par­ty out of the Novem­ber 2023 bal­lot and vir­tu­al­ly guar­an­tee­ing a Repub­li­can vic­tor in the con­test for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands.

Sound implau­si­ble? Well, it’s not. It has hap­pened before.

In 2016, three Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates for Trea­sur­er split the vote so effec­tive­ly that the gen­er­al elec­tion runoff con­sist­ed of two Repub­li­cans. Duane David­son went on to serve a sin­gle term as Trea­sur­er. He was defeat­ed for reelec­tion in 2020 by Demo­c­rat Mike Pel­lic­ciot­ti, a ris­ing star in the state House.

Repub­li­cans sub­se­quent­ly locked them­selves out of the 2020 con­test for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and the 2022 con­test for Sec­re­tary of State by hav­ing too many can­di­dates of equiv­a­lent elec­toral strength split­ting the vote.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has time to reduce the size of its field, but that time can arguably now be bet­ter mea­sured in weeks as opposed to months since the fil­ing peri­od is quick­ly approach­ing. The par­ty and its key stake­hold­ers will have to decide what actions, if any, they want to take to win­now the field before then.

Here’s the exact text of the ques­tion we asked and the responses:

QUESTION: If the elec­tion for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic  Lands of Wash­ing­ton State were being held today and the can­di­dates were Demo­c­rat Mona Das, Repub­li­can Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, Demo­c­rat Kevin Van De Wege, Repub­li­can Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen, Demo­c­rat Rebec­ca Sal­daña, Demo­c­rat Dave Upthe­grove, and Demo­c­rat Patrick DePoe, who would you vote for?

Half the poll sam­ple saw the ques­tion with the order of can­di­dates as shown above and half the sam­ple saw the ques­tion with the order of can­di­dates shown below. The word­ing was the same, but the order was invert­ed to make the ques­tion as neu­tral as possible. 

If the elec­tion for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands of Wash­ing­ton State were being held today and the can­di­dates were Demo­c­rat Patrick DePoe, Demo­c­rat Dave Upthe­grove, Demo­c­rat Rebec­ca Sal­daña, Repub­li­can Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen, Demo­c­rat Kevin Van De Wege, Repub­li­can Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, and Demo­c­rat Mona Das, who would you vote for?


  • Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler (R): 18%
  • Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen (R): 14%
  • Rebec­ca Sal­daña (D): 6%
  • Patrick DePoe (D): 5%
  • Mona Das (D): 5%
  • Dave Upthe­grove (D): 3%
  • Kevin Van De Wege (D): 2%
  • Not sure: 48%

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.

Insights from the crosstabs

In the toplines, none of the Democ­rats real­ly stand out. The crosstabs are more inter­est­ing. Among female vot­ers, Rebec­ca Sal­daña and Patrick DePoe each got 9%, while Das got 3%, Van De Wege 1%, and Upthe­grove 4%. Vot­ers iden­ti­fy­ing as male, mean­while, were very sup­port­ive of Repub­li­can Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler’s can­di­da­cy — 24% of them, near­ly a quar­ter, said they’d vote for her.

54% of Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers said they were unde­cid­ed, joined by 54% of inde­pen­dent vot­ers and 30% of Repub­li­can vot­ers. A plu­ral­i­ty of Repub­li­can vot­ers (35%) favored Kuehl Ped­er­sen, like­ly owing to Her­rera Beut­ler’s impeach­ment vote. Her­rera Beut­ler has plu­ral­i­ty sup­port with inde­pen­dents (21%) and pulls some Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers as well, like­ly for the very same reason.

DePoe is the most pop­u­lar choice of Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers, with 12%, fol­lowed by Sal­daña at 10%, Das at 6%, Upthe­grove at 5%, and Van De Wege at 2%.

A small num­ber of Repub­li­can vot­ers picked Das (2%), Sal­daña (3%), and Upthe­grove (3%), but none were inter­est­ed in Van De Wege or DePoe.

Her­rera Beut­ler leads among vot­ers of col­or with 18%. DePoe gets 13% from vot­ers of col­or, Kuehl Ped­er­sen 11%, and Das 12%. Only 34% of vot­ers of col­or said they were not sure, com­pared to 48% of the whole sample.

Her­rera Beut­ler also has some appeal with young vot­ers: 30% of vot­ers ages eigh­teen to twen­ty-nine picked her in the sur­vey. Das was the run­ner-up among that group with 16%, fol­lowed by Sal­daña and DePoe, each with 11%.

No young vot­ers picked Upthe­grove, Kuehl Ped­er­sen, or Van De Wege.

Van De Wege was the worst per­former in the sur­vey, with 2% sup­port among Democ­rats, 0% among Repub­li­cans, and 1% among independents.

The sen­a­tor has been rais­ing mon­ey, but his path to vic­to­ry seems to have got­ten rock­i­er, giv­en that well-fund­ed groups that might have been inter­est­ed in his can­di­da­cy now have Her­rera Beut­ler as an alter­na­tive option.

Pro­gres­sive and envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, mean­while, may opt to endorse one of the oth­er four Democ­rats giv­en Van De Wege’s posi­tions and record of occa­sion­al­ly vot­ing against Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­or­i­ties in the statehouse.

We’ll keep an eye on this race and bring you more data in 2024.

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