The Gristle

Bungle in the Jungle?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE?: The particular political makeup of the 40th Legislative District practically guarantees no conservative can ever be elected to represent the district in Olympia. For decades, the district has been considered “safe” for Democrats. But the exuberant enthusiasm of Democrats filing to fill the position vacated by Rep. Kris Lytton may have made the impossible possible, and a district that could never be lost under ordinary circumstances to Democrats in November may be lost under extraordinary circumstances to Democrats in August.

The 40th District is very blue, and includes western Washington’s affluent and progressive coastal communities of the San Juan Islands. It is also the receiving area for progressive voters from south Bellingham, the most dependably liberal section of Whatcom County, that have been peeled from the 42nd District and cast south through periodic redistricting based on Census data. It makes pragmatic sense to redistrict block-by-block within a dense urban center rather than mile-by-mile in decentralized rural areas; and as the 42nd has become successively less of a swing district and more safe for Republicans through these reapportionments, that’s had a strengthening effect on the makeup of the 40th, which was never especially “swingy” from the outset. The 40th had become a district the Democrats could not lose.

Until, perhaps, now.

From statehood to the turn of this century, Washington had used unique populist methods to winnow a slate of candidates for the general election. Through most of that history, the method was the blanket primary. The top candidate from each major party earned a spot on the general election ballot—regardless of whether the candidate placed first or second in the primary. In 2000, the two major national parties successfully sued states like Washington and California that used such blanket primaries on the grounds the procedure did not yield them fine control over their own candidates. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed the exclusive clubs should have more control over their members and overturned the tried-and-true (and popular) blanket primary. After clumsy attempts at a replacement, the state settled on what’s become known as the top-two or jungle primary.

In a jungle primary, the top two vote-getters in a primary election move on to the general election—regardless of party affiliation. In theory (and in practice in a number of state elections since 2007), districts around the state could feature general election runoffs between two Democrats or two Republicans. The latter has happened in at least two election cycles in south-central Washington, where there is a surfeit of Republican candidates and of conservative voters who want to elect them.

In theory, the jungle primary allows for two candidates from the majority party to advance to the second round, creating conditions for a moderate with more appeal to a greater number of voters. There is a perverse possibility, however, that an overabundance of candidates from the majority party could eclipse one another in an electoral effect called “vote-splittting.”

Vote-splitting is essentially a math problem where, for example, one party with two candidates and only 41 percent popular support would beat another party with three candidates and 59 percent popular support if voters split their votes evenly among candidates for their own party. This happened in Washington’s 2016 primary for state treasurer, where Democrats won a majority of the vote but failed to move on to the general election. And, without some constructive intervention, it is ferociously likely to happen again in the 40th District this fall.

Four excellent candidates with strong bases of support among Democrats want to replace Kris Lytton this fall. If the general makeup of voters in a 40th District midterm election may be considered 60 percent Democrat, each of these candidates could garner 15 percent of the total electorate. The four all draw from the same pool of support. Two Republicans have stepped into the race and could theoretically split the remaining 40 percent of the vote between them—even if neither of them campaigned particularly hard and had limited financial support, effectively playing the role of spoiler.

The situation is fearsomely similar to that faced by Senator Kevin Ranker when he first ran for the open seat in the 40th District in 2008. A crowded field of Democrats tied up and eclipsed one another in the primary, allowing the lone Republican to sail through as the top voter-getter with 32 percent of the vote. That’s essentially all the votes the Republican received in the following general election, with Ranker corralling and consolidating 63 percent of the vote in this very blue district.

Ranker was assisted in several key ways. First, there was no second Republican to siphon and split votes in a top-two. Second, several Democrats set aside and shuttered their own campaigns in order to boost other Dems. They sacrificed their own aspirations and support networks to deliver a Democrat with star power into the top-two. It was moreover a time when there were kingmakers among party elites, and a methodology of a collective party leadership picking its winners that has fallen aggressively out of favor in the wreckage of 2016.

Those conditions are unlikely to assert themselves in 2018; and the window has already closed for any of the field of candidates to voluntarily withdraw in order to improve the odds of Democrats winning the 40th District this fall.

The parameters of a perfect storm: The stars of 40th Democrats are great and gifted. Their skills are impressive, their fundraising capacity is enormous, and their campaigning powers are unparalleled. And they’ll all be competing over a matter of weeks for the same finite set of like-minded voters. And therein looms the catastrophe.

Past Columns
The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Thumb on the Scales

May 30, 2018

Heating Up

May 16, 2018

Home Run

May 9, 2018

State of the County

May 2, 2018

Symptoms of Pain

April 25, 2018

A Last Ditch Effort

April 18, 2018

Much ADUs About Nothing

April 11, 2018

The Sin of Sinclair

April 4, 2018

All Thumbs on the Scale

March 28, 2018

The Boundaries Between Us

March 21, 2018

Dirty Deeds

March 7, 2018

Sunshine Storm

February 28, 2018

A Public Education

February 21, 2018

Power Play

February 14, 2018

Neutral Ground

February 7, 2018

The Nature of the Emergency

January 31, 2018

Events
Today
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Open Air Summer Rep

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|Stepping Stones Garden

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Musicals and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Plant Hike

8:00am|Hannegan Pass Trail

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Padden Triathlon

8:30am|Lake Padden Park

March Point Run

9:00am|Andeavor Refinery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Welcome to Chickenlandia

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Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

How to Renovate an Older Urban Garden

10:00am|Roeder Home

Imagine This! Home & Landscape Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Inside the green building scene

10:00am

Apps & Snaps for iPhone Gardeners

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

A Novel Affair with Nancy Pearl

11:30am|Maple Hall

Ice Cream Class for Adults

12:00pm|Lynden Library

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

Tuesdays with Morrie

2:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Chuckanut Writers Conference Open Mics

7:00pm|Village Books Reading Gallery, Evolve Chocolate and Cafe, Lovitt Restaurant, and Magdalena's Creperie

Musical Reunion

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Dudestock

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

An Evening with Ira Glass

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Brunch on the Bay

10:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Skagit Symphony Garden Tour

10:00am|Mount Vernon

Junk in Your Trunk

10:00am|North Fork Library

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

La Conner Live

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Women on the Water

1:00pm|Community Boating Center

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Way North Comedy Triple Header

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Take Me to Church

8:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

Village Books Trove Web
Monday
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Rainbow Reads

12:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Hammocking Basics

6:00pm|REI

Hammocking Basics

6:00pm|REI

Monday Night Pizza

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

Cuban Salsa

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Orca Month Kayak Tour

6:00pm|Zuanich Park

Books on Tap Two

6:30pm|Tino's Pizza & Pasta Co.

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books

Guffawingham

9:00pm| Firefly Lounge

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