The Map is the Territory
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
THE MAP IS THE TERRITORY: We’ve come to think of political maps in reds and blues, while traditional concepts of identity like liberal and conservative fray and fall apart. For truly, could anyone describe the ferment of the last 24 months of Republican froth as conservative? Yet the colors hold true in the function of maps, illustrating the tribal tide that washes over our times. Our terms, our political parties are broken. Our maps are not.
Results will continue to firm in coming days, but early returns suggest that a Blue Wave did indeed ripple through. But was it strong enough to turn the strong red undertow of reactionary nationalism?
There is perhaps no better bellwether of that wave than the 42nd Legislative District, one of redder political anchors in the greater blue Puget Sound region.
No elected official in memory has more aggressively telegraphed his desire to be somewhere else, to do something else, to serve someone else than Sen. Doug Ericksen, who sought to leverage his loyalty to the Trump Administration into some federal position elsewhere. Voters heard his message, and he hangs on by a thread in early returns that could snap in future counts.
In his fall, Ericksen also appears to have pulled down his junior Republican colleagues in the 42nd District. Incumbent Rep. Vincent Buys appears defeated by margins too close to call on election night.
Another bellwether of national trends is seen in the state’s central 8th Congressional District, where three-time loser Dino Rossi lost again in a bid to secure departing Republican Rep. Dave Reichert’s seat. Polling one month ago suggested Rossi held a 10-point lead over Democrat and physician Kim Schrier, a lead that evaporated in the weeks leading up to the election.
Tellingly, support for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers also crumbled in Spokane’s strongly conservative 5th Congressional District. But she held on.
Among the important early indicators of voter enthusiasm are individual contributions to a campaign in small amounts, a measure of grassroots support for a candidate.
Outside money poured into the 42nd District senate race, according to campaign finance filings reported to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission; however, grassroots support for Ericksen lagged, making up just 16 percent of the nearly $280,000 in individual contributions his campaign had received at the end of the PDC’s election reporting cycle. Pinky Vargas raised nearly twice as much overall—more than half a million dollars—but individual contributions made up fully a third of her total. Individual contributions to her campaign totaled more than $200,000—nearly the amount Ericksen raised in total from a variety of corporate and party sources, according to PDC filings.
Drilling down, the indicators are even more startling, with $81,000 of the total Ericksen raised in contributions in amounts under $500, an amount the pocketbook of an average county household might bear. For Vargas, this total exceeded $180,000 in contributions under $500 from more than 1,600 households.
Proportions of grassroots support were similar in trend, although less dramatic, for the lower House races in the 42nd District, with the portion of those contributions from individuals greater for the Democrats.
Although risky, the local Democrats’ strategy to field multiple candidates in a primary runoff in August also appears to have yielded dividends—enlisting progressives while stalling and confusing early contributions to Republican candidates, who did not have a lot to do or run against until those primaries were complete. Where Ericksen’s war machine was fully in operation against a known opponent early in 2014, financial contributions to his campaign in 2018 lagged and really did not begin to flow in earnest until September.
Primaries are the most important dress rehearsal for general election outcomes, and that holds true in 2018. Candidates who performed well in August continued their streak. And votes that were divided among multiple Democrats in August stacked to unified single Dems in November.
Of course, the most important indicator is voter turnout and the number of ballots actually returned.
In the last presidential mid-term election, Whatcom County voters returned about 76,000 ballots, or about 60 percent of the total issued. As of election night in 2018, more than 95,000 ballots had been returned, according to the Whatcom County Auditors Office, a record for participation in an off-year national election.
That appears to have held true across the state, with returns shattering records for a midterm election.
But any wave of any magnitude would be blunted by the extreme polarization of our times, made manifest and intensified by the various instruments that yield electoral power to underpopulated areas of the United States—whether through the Electoral College, the structure of the U.S. Senate, the artificial cap on the numbers of elected representatives in the U.S. House, or Republican-backed voter suppression policies. And this “tyranny of the minority” is worsened by successive cycles of gerrymandering—where an overabundance of progressive voices are packed into dense urban districts where their supermajorities are wasted, while rural districts are cracked to yield slim but durable support to conservatives.
Future days and future ballots will strengthen confidence that one house of Congress, at least, is in the hands of forces opposed to Donald Trump.
Trump declared this election was a referendum on the president and his politics. Voters agreed and acted on that.