Blue Wave Stalls Offshore
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
BLUE WAVE STALLS OFFSHORE: An exciting August primary nevertheless pulls back the curtain on the weaknesses of the state’s Top-Two Primary, and the moribund political discussion that will follow it into the fall.
Perhaps the most unsettling outcome in this election, an unprecedented number of excellent candidates seeking office did not likewise encourage voter turnout and interest in electing them. A theoried Blue Wave stalled, and state election officials gauged this primary turnout as only a tick above average. As of Tuesday, little more than one ballot in three had been returned in Whatcom County, with even skimpier response in Skagit. A public disinterested (or defeated) in their future continues to dominate local elections.
Stacking results is one means to analyze and understand a primary result. It involves taking the total aggregate of votes received by all candidates representing one party or platform and assuming those votes will remain loyal to that platform and carry over into the fall. Five hundred votes split among five likeminded candidates in a primary are likely to coalesce to 500 votes for one of those winnowed candidates in the general election.
In the 40th District—a district that received remarkable interest among talented and qualified Democrats seeking to replace Rep. Kris Lytton this fall, and a district that would not in a century readily elect a Republican to that office—Republican Michael Petrish appears a top vote-getter at 20.0 percent.
Stacking the combined votes received by Democrats suggests that’s all Petrish—a qualified and rock-ribbed conservative—will receive, and he will be carpet bombed by more than 30 points in November. But he nevertheless gets to campaign on, megaphone in hand, on a platform supported by little more than one vote in five in that district.
There is something deeply dysfunctional with an electoral system that would propel a candidate with such marginal support in his own district into a lead position in policy debate into the fall.
The robust discussion among 40th LD Dems about issues and solutions that energized the primary now gets neutered to a paralyzed quarrel against Republican intransigence over guns, god and government into the fall. It is a public discussion that leads nowhere and to no understanding; and moreover does not represent the robust policy discussions district voters signaled they wanted to have.
Something analogous occurred in the 42nd District, where stacking illustrates the daunting challenge of Democrats into the fall. There, Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen—surely one of the most polarizing political figures in recent memory, with towering negatives—was the top vote-getter in a primary in which there was little to stir Republicans. Barring some Big Blue Wave miracle that was not in evidence in this primary, he may sail to easy victory in the fall.
Stacking the votes received by Democrat Tim Ballew II on to the votes received by frontrunner Democrat Pinky Vargas scopes the challenge faced by Democrats in this district, the many thousands of votes they must still activate and collect in order to make a difference this fall.
The dirty little secret in American politics is the two parties like their safe districts, and are more than happy to cooperate together to reinforce them and create more of them.
Money and energy that might have been spent by Democrats in the 40th District may now be moved elsewhere—for example, the competitive 10th Legislative District to the south. Similarly, money and energy the Republicans might spend in a fundraising effort to hold Whatcom County may also now be confidently shifted—perhaps to Dino Rossi’s bid to replace retiring Rep. Dave Reichart in the state’s 8th Congressional District in order to retain the Republican hold of the U.S. House of Representatives.
These notable battlegrounds are, in consequence, created by making every other district less competitive—and politically less interesting—in successive gerrymanders. Through motive and mischief, the parties are becoming increasingly sealed off from one another across geographic domains, and they’re taking their voters with them.
The strategy of centrist and progressive Democrats alike—that a more energetic primary with more choices among candidates and positions would increase voter excitement and participation into the fall, and might heal the frictions between the two camps—does not appear to have been borne out by participation totals. Candidates were diverse and excellent, but it made little difference to the interest of voters. This midterm is shaping up to be as lukewarm in turnout as any other in recent years.
The Blue Wave can only arrive through the activation and participation of the population cohort under the age of 40, the largest and most influential voting bloc in the United States. Yet while polls indicate this cohort dislikes the current direction of our corrosive national politics, and dislikes it with a more ferocious intensity than any other voting group, their indifference to elections suggests they’re a generation content to continue to be punched in the mouth by those politics.
For local Democrats, the immediate challenge will be bringing the camps together, patching together frayed coalitions and salving bruised feelings from a notably fractious primary. The searing irony for Ds is the fractious primary fallout was calculated to boost voter interest and demonstrate the party accommodates many views and the interests of a broad-based electorate.
Now the party must sweep up the flotsam and shards of a self-inflicted storm surf, while the wave they wanted to ride crested and broke offshore.