Blue Wave 2020
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
BLUE WAVE 2020: Another towering Blue wave roared in on the West Coast last week, flooding voting districts inland to the Rockies and North Cascades. While national media frets about the 45 percent of the country still deeply in thrall with Trumpism, little is said of the alternative reality unfolding in the populous Western states, where Donald Trump and Republican Party fortunes collapsed in ruin.
In California, where Reagan Republicans once dominated the landscape, Trump received just 33.2 percent of the vote—the bare minimum expectation, the floor, in an aggressive and competitive two-party system.
In Washington and Oregon, the outcome was similarly stark, with Trump failing to receive even 40 percent of the statewide vote. In the populous and affluent King County metro area, Tump eked just 22.1 percent of the vote. The situation was little better in rural Whatcom County, once highly competitive for Republicans, where Trump gleaned just 36.4 percent; in Bellingham precincts, he failed to scrape 20 percent. In something opposite of the Midas touch, Trump’s rotten performance tore down Republican outcomes across the state.
The West appears to be having an entirely different political discussion than the rest of the United States. The topics are the same, but the tone and tenor and lyrics are different.
We’ll argue that’s because West Coast states have dramatically improved the franchise of democracy through simplified and streamlined voter registration, mail-in ballots with paid postage, generous voting windows and similar instruments that make it easier for voters to be heard in elections. The state broke all records in voter turnout in 2020, with Whatcom County’s turnout above 87 percent. These are numbers any democratic society should celebrate.
The phenomenon we’ve observed in the past several election cycles is that, in turnouts of this magnitude, the county simply begins to run out of firebreathing conservatives.
This spelled the doom, in this election cycle, to the long reign of the county’s Republican representation in Olympia. Candidates endorsed or supported by Democrats won in 19 of 20 local races.
Republican incumbent Luanne Van Werven bucked trends and eked out a narrow win in the low-stakes August primary, but her margin did not hold when thousands of voters showed up in November. She lost to Democrat Alicia Rule by about 2,000 votes, according to the most recent election data.
For sure, Republican intransigence against common sense health practices during a coronavirus pandemic did their candidates no favors; and turning Governor Jay Inslee’s science-based social distancing orders into another towering, seething culture war grievance was a poor strategy in this election.
As the Gristle observed in May, “While poll after poll indicates broad public support for the state’s health guidelines during the pandemic crisis, the Washington GOP continues to run on a platform of aggressive defiance and partisan stunts.
Trump had no coattails to carry down-ballot candidates to victory in the deep Blue Puget Sound region, the Gristle predicted, particularly when their opponents are engaging and highly qualified for the positions they seek. “In a presidential election year, when voter turnout statewide averages 80 percent, COVID-19 is looking like an extinction-level event for local Republicans.”
The extinction is less cause for celebration than for concern, because there is a large constituent group an increasingly dysfunctional Republican Party is failing to represent. Rural communities deserve effective representation, too. They’re just not getting it.
“Perhaps the preponderance of [Loren Culp] signs defined the red bubble’s edges and gave those within the false impression that a majority supported him and opposed sex education,” journalist Knute Berger recently observed. “Neither Inslee’s reelection nor the passage of the sex-ed bill would surprise anyone who pays attention to the fundamentals of Washington politics, which seem set on a pretty predictable 60-40 statewide ideological split these days. There is no conspiracy or suspicious outcome here.”
The “Cascade Curtain” endures—there’re still plenty of red districts in the eastern portion of the state—but their political power of representation is diminished in deep minority status in Olympia. A two-party system is unhealthy when one or both parties is diseased.
“This election was a major step on the road to creating a new party system in Washington state,” public affairs consultant, political strategist and once-ardent Republican Chris Vance observes. “Republicans will try and tell themselves that this is just temporary, and that the pendulum will once again swing back. Well, the pendulum doesn’t always swing back. In 1993, I served in the state House of Representatives with 10 Democrats from Eastern Washington. The Democrats lost almost all those seats in the 1994 Republican landslide and have never gotten them back. Rural voters shifted and the shift has endured. Unless they move dramatically back toward the center and abandon Trump and his nationalist populism, Republicans face a similar collapse among college-educated white voters, particularly women, and especially in the suburbs. Without the suburbs, Republicans are not competitive in Washington,” and that creates—he and others believe—an opportunity for a new party system here.
Indeed, there may be more dimension for a new regional conservative coalition than there is opportunity for progressive Democrats to move centrists to the left. And a more functional conservative party might even open a new lane for a more progressive Democratic Party on the Left Coast.