Visualization of NPI's May 2024 Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands poll finding (NPI graphic)

Democ­rats in Wash­ing­ton remain at risk of fail­ing to get a can­di­date through to the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion in the impor­tant down­bal­lot race to choose a suc­ces­sor to out­go­ing Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands Hilary Franz, the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute’s lat­est peri­od­ic sur­vey of like­ly Ever­green State vot­ers has found. 

A pair of Repub­li­can can­di­dates is each cur­rent­ly draw­ing more sup­port than any of the five Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates who are seek­ing the office — a dynam­ic we also saw in Feb­ru­ary of this year and Novem­ber of last year. 

While Democ­rats did suc­ceed in per­suad­ing two of their can­di­dates to with­draw ahead of Fil­ing Week — State Sen­a­tor Rebec­ca Sal­dana and for­mer State Sen­a­tor Mona Das — two oth­er can­di­dates who iden­ti­fy as Democ­rats then decid­ed to mount eleventh-hour bids for the office, negat­ing those efforts.

As a con­se­quence, our May sur­vey once again asked about a field of sev­en can­di­dates. And not sur­pris­ing­ly, the vast major­i­ty of our respon­dents declined to make a selec­tion. 58% of the 615 like­ly vot­ers inter­viewed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for NPI last week said they weren’t sure who they would vote for in the race if the elec­tion were being held now. 16% said they would vote for Repub­li­can Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler and 12% for Repub­li­can Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen, Franz’s 2016 challenger. 

All of the Democ­rats were in the sin­gle digits:

  • Allen Lebovitz, who just filed and has no statewide name recog­ni­tion, leads the Demo­c­ra­t­ic field, but by a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly insignif­i­cant mar­gin. He received 5%.
  • King Coun­ty Coun­cil Chair Dave Upthe­grove, arguably the fron­trun­ner, received just 4% in the survey. 
  • State Sen­a­tor Kevin Van De Wege received 2%. He also received 2% in our Novem­ber and Feb­ru­ary surveys.
  • Red­mond City Coun­cilmem­ber Jeralee Ander­son, the oth­er last-minute entrant, also received 2%. 
  • DNR trib­al liai­son Patrick DePoe received only 1%, after hav­ing received 5% in Novem­ber and again in February. 

“Not sure” won’t be an option on the August bal­lot. But with only two Repub­li­cans run­ning against the five Democ­rats, the risk of a gen­er­al elec­tion lock­out is real. 

Unlike most oth­er states, Wash­ing­ton does­n’t have a real pri­ma­ry where vot­ers choose par­ty nom­i­nees. State and coun­ty elec­tions offi­cials mis­lead­ing­ly call Wash­ing­ton’s win­now­ing exer­cise a pri­ma­ry, but in real­i­ty, it’s the elim­i­na­tion round of a two-part gen­er­al elec­tion, with the sec­ond round being a runoff. The top two can­di­dates advance regard­less of par­ty under this sys­tem, which is why we call it the Top Two. 

Because nom­i­nees aren’t being cho­sen, par­ties don’t have a guar­an­tee of hav­ing a can­di­date on the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot. They can be locked out. 

Save for 2018, every even-year Top Two elec­tion going back to 2016 has yield­ed a lock­out in at least one statewide race. Democ­rats were mem­o­rably locked out of the runoff for state Trea­sur­er in 2016, while Repub­li­cans were locked out of the runoff for Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor in 2020 and the runoff for Sec­re­tary of State in 2022. 

A lock­out effec­tive­ly guar­an­tees that the oth­er par­ty will get the office.

The ingre­di­ents for a lock­out are fair­ly sim­ple: the pre­vail­ing par­ty needs two sol­id can­di­dates who can divide the vote by less than the los­ing par­ty’s even larg­er field of three or more weak­er can­di­dates. When a par­ty and its allies work to con­sol­i­date the vote behind one of their can­di­dates (or, alter­na­tive­ly, col­lapse a field by get­ting some of their con­tenders to drop out) the like­li­hood of a lock­out goes way down. 

As men­tioned, Democ­rats did­n’t suc­ceed in col­laps­ing their field, so now the par­ty has to fig­ure out how to con­sol­i­date as much of the vote behind one can­di­date as it can. 

Democ­rats were able to do this eight years ago, when incum­bent Peter Gold­mark retired; enough Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers coa­lesced behind a sin­gle can­di­date, Hilary Franz, to avert a lock­out. How­ev­er, the par­ty’s chal­lenge was eas­i­er then, because the field of five Democ­rats was fac­ing a Repub­li­can and a Lib­er­tar­i­an rather than two Republicans. 

This cycle, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic field faces a pair of Repub­li­cans who are well posi­tioned to divide the Repub­li­can vote. Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler has plen­ty of name recog­ni­tion from serv­ing in Con­gress and is rais­ing seri­ous mon­ey. Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen, mean­while, has lit­tle mon­ey but does have the endorse­ment of the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Party. 

Gold­mark and Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Action have endorsed Dave Upthe­grove for this office, and he’s raised $371,213.20, more than any oth­er can­di­date for the office. He and Kevin Van De Wege have also been more dis­ci­plined in their expen­di­tures than their top Repub­li­can rival has. Upthe­grove has spent $51,816.53 so far and Van De Wege has spent $33,489.72 of the $263,832.62 he’s raised, where­as Her­rera Beut­ler has raised $359,238.88 and spent $181,419.95.

As for the oth­er Democ­rats: Patrick DePoe has raised $121,639.00 and spent most of that sum — $79,271.92. Lebovitz has report­ed rais­ing $1,905.00 and Ander­son $2,000. Lebovitz has eight donors so far; Ander­son is her cam­paign’s only donor. 

Even if DePoe, Lebovitz, and Ander­son don’t end up hav­ing much mon­ey to com­pete with in the Top Two, they could still attract votes. 

In 2016, as men­tioned, Democ­rats also had a five-can­di­date field. The top vote-get­ting Demo­c­rat, Hilary Franz, received just 22% of the vote, trail­ing Repub­li­can Mark McLaugh­lin, who received 37.95%. In third place was Upthe­grove, who received 14.12% of the vote. Three oth­er Democ­rats col­lec­tive­ly received 20.30% of the vote — a fifth of the sup­port avail­able in the 2016 Top Two. 

Con­cern­ing­ly for Democ­rats, the Wash­ing­ton State Labor Coun­cil was unable to agree on endors­ing a can­di­date for this office at its recent COPE con­ven­tion.

An endorse­ment at COPE would have helped Upthe­grove con­sol­i­date his fron­trun­ner sta­tus and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic vote, but he did­n’t get endorsed. 

DePoe has the sup­port of incum­bent com­mis­sion­er Franz, for­mer Con­gress­man Norm Dicks, and a num­ber of trib­al nations. Van De Wege’s web­site lists few endorse­ments, though he does have the sup­port of Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs, two tribes, three union locals, and a few fel­low state legislators.

Here’s the exact ques­tion we asked in our sur­vey and the respons­es we received:

QUESTION: If the elec­tion for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands of Wash­ing­ton State were being held today, would you vote for Demo­c­rat Allen Lebovitz, Repub­li­can Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, Demo­c­rat Dave Upthe­grove, Repub­li­can Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen, Demo­c­rat Patrick DePoe, Demo­c­rat Jeralee Ander­son, or Demo­c­rat Kevin Van De Wege?

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, would you vote for Demo­c­rat Kevin Van De Wege, Demo­c­rat Jeralee Ander­son, Demo­c­rat Patrick DePoe, Repub­li­can, Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen, Demo­c­rat Dave Upthe­grove, Repub­li­can Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, or Demo­c­rat Allen Lebovitz?

ANSWERS:

  • Not sure: 58% (+6% since February) 
  • Repub­li­can Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler: 16% (unchanged since February)
  • Repub­li­can Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen: 12% (+1% since February)
  • Demo­c­rat Allen Lebovitz: 5% (was not a can­di­date in February)
  • Demo­c­rat Dave Upthe­grove: 4% (unchanged since February)
  • Demo­c­rat Kevin Van De Wege: 2% (unchanged since February)
  • Demo­c­rat Jeralee Ander­son: 2% (was not a can­di­date in February)
  • Demo­c­rat Patrick DePoe: 1% (-4% since February) 

Our sur­vey of 615 like­ly 2024 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Wednes­day, May 15th until Thurs­day, May 16th, 2024.

The poll uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines (45%) and online answers from respon­dents recruit­ed by text (55%).

It was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling (PPP) for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 4.0% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

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.

66% (two-thirds) of Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers told us they’re unde­cid­ed, as did 63% of inde­pen­dents. Mean­while, only 38% of Repub­li­cans are undecided. 

No Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date has been able to escape sin­gle dig­its since we start­ed mea­sur­ing vot­er sup­port for the many declared can­di­dates in this race. This is a low­er salience down­bal­lot con­test, to be sure, and many vot­ers won’t be engaged until it’s time to vote in July, but the pro­gres­sive move­ment would be well served by coa­lesc­ing around one can­di­date in order to avoid a Demo­c­ra­t­ic lockout. 

Interested in diving into the crosstabs with us?

If you’re inter­est­ed in the crosstabs of our CPL polling — past and present — we invite you to sub­scribe to The Chi­nook Bea­con, NPI’s newest pub­li­ca­tion and The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate’s youngest sib­ling. The Bea­con, which just launched this week, is a newslet­ter avail­able exclu­sive­ly to pay­ing sub­scribers that pro­vides deep insights from our research as well as com­men­tary on elec­toral and polit­i­cal trends. Sub­scrip­tions cost $20/month or $240/year, and you can also become a Found­ing Mem­ber for $600/year.

We expect to pub­lish new edi­tions of The Bea­con every oth­er week through Novem­ber. After that, the pub­li­ca­tion sched­ule will like­ly go to twice a month.

About the author

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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