Elections

Sorry, Semi Bird: Data shows that Dave Reichert is the leading Republican candidate in Washington’s 2024 gubernatorial contest

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.

Andrew Villeneuve

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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