This morning, The Seattle Times published an excellent story by respected political reporter Jim Brunner looking at the Republican side of the 2024 gubernatorial race, in which ultra MAGA candidate Semi Bird asserts that he is the leading Republican candidate, rather than former congressman Dave Reichert.
Importantly, Brunner was able to secure an interview with the recently ousted Richland school board member (booted out of his seat by voters in a recall) in which Bird went on the record describing how he perceives the dynamics of the contest. Here’s a key excerpt from Brunner’s story:
He’s been pressured by prominent Republicans to drop out of the governor’s race and get behind former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert. He lags in fundraising behind other major candidates.
But Bird isn’t budging. He’s trying to flip the script.
He argues that he — not Reichert — has a better shot of breaking the Republican Party’s decadeslong losing streak in governor’s races.
“I am seen as the grassroots candidate. Dave Reichert is looked at as the left-moderate conservative,” Bird said in an interview. “He cannot win in King County, nor can he win in Eastern Washington. The only way Dave Reichert can win the primary is if I am not in the primary.”
Let’s break down that last paragraph, which contains quite a few striking assertions from Bird.
First, there’s: I am seen as the grassroots candidate.
Many right wing activists would probably agree with that statement, and perhaps a few observers outside of Republican circles would as well. But it is nevertheless a subjective statement. Lots of candidates assert that they are running grassroots campaigns and tout the number of small dollar donors they have.
Second, we have: Dave Reichert is looked at as the left-moderate conservative.
This is truly an excellent candidate for oxymoron of the year. I can’t recall having seen “left-moderate conservative” in a story before. I’ve heard “moderate conservative,” but not “left-moderate conservative.” If someone is to the left of the imaginary “moderate” center (which, by the way, is a very flawed and overly simplistic political model), then they are inherently not conservative.
I suppose what Bird actually means is that Reichert is too far to the left of him and the ultra MAGA base to qualify for the label conservative. But only someone who is extremely right wing would characterize Reichert that way.
Third, we have: He cannot win in King County…
This is amusingly a defensible statement, though probably not in the way that Bird meant it. Why? Well, King County is so Democratic that Reichert isn’t going to be able to win it, even if Reichert runs a stellar campaign that performs incredibly well. Bird will likewise not be able to win in King County, it’s far too Democratic.
Fourth, we have: nor can he win in Eastern Washington…
Our latest statewide survey, released earlier this month, found that Reichert is currently the leading gubernatorial candidate in Central and Eastern Washington, so this is not a credible claim. In our four-way gubernatorial polling, Bird received 18% support in Central and Eastern Washington, while Reichert received 26%. Another 26% were undecided. And 23% said they’d vote for Bob Ferguson.
That’s Washington’s most Republican-friendly region, and yet it favors Reichert.
Brunner’s story mentions this research and links to it so Seattle Times readers can read our analysis of the data for themselves, which we appreciate.
Finally, we have: The only way Dave Reichert can win the primary is if I am not in the primary.
This is likewise not a credible claim — our polling shows that Dave Reichert is currently way ahead of Semi Bird among likely 2024 voters, so he isn’t going to need Bird to drop out in order to reach the general election. Reichert received 31% in our survey, as did Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Bird only got 10%. He wasn’t happy to hear that, and promptly made his feelings known.
It is important to note that unlike most states, Washington doesn’t actually hold a primary to choose nominees for local or state-level partisan positions. What the state and county auditors call a primary (and what Bird is referencing) is really a qualifying election in which the top two vote getters advance regardless of party.
In a real primary, as defined by all major dictionaries that we’ve consulted over the years, voters choose nominees. That isn’t what happens in Washington. Here, we have a two-part general election. In round one (the top two or winnowing round) voters eliminate all but two candidates using first past the post voting. Round two is a runoff in which voters pick one of the finalists to hold the office.
If Washington had a real primary, like Oregon to the south or Idaho to the east, then Republican voters would be choosing from between Bird and Reichert as to who their nominee should be, and Democratic voters would be choosing from between Bob Ferguson and Washington State Senator Mark Mullet. The voters wishing to align with each party would be picking a standard bearer.
But since Washington has a multi-round general election, Democratic and Republican voters don’t have the power to fill a slot guaranteed to their party. To get on the general election ballot, Bird would either have to get more votes than any other candidate or get more votes than all but one of the other candidates. If he can’t get one of the top two spots, he doesn’t go on. And since Washington has a sore loser law, he won’t be able to run an organized write-in campaign.
Bird and others have been holding up his endorsements from county Republican parties as evidence that the base prefers him to Reichert. The Washington State Republican Party might follow suit and endorse Bird too — as Brunner notes, it has a convention coming up in April and it could make an endorsement then.
But the people active in Republican party politics are only a subset of the base and the overall Republican + Republican-leaning electorate in Washington.
Our research shows that more Republican voters favor Reichert than Bird. Reichert got 59% of Republican voters in our four-way question (see this post for the question text and methodology), while Bird got 22%. 11% weren’t sure.
That’s a more than 2‑to‑1 advantage.
And while Reichert has crossover appeal to Democrats and independents, our polling found that Bird has almost none. In fact, zero percent of Democratic respondents expressed support for him. Bird could improve his standing with Republican voters and still easily lose the Top Two election next August.
Bird can say whatever he wants about the strength of his candidacy, but so far, our public opinion research indicates his campaign has more hype than bite.