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Infighting looks to doom pro-Trump right
Expensive campaign to flip state Senate looks like a dud, plus some other tidbits
If far-right candidates Joe Kent, Heidi St. John, and Vicki Kraft were one person, they would have “won” the primary in the 3rd Congressional District handily, sending incumbent U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler into early retirement for her vote to impeach Donald Trump over then Jan. 6 insurrection.
But they aren’t one person. Herrera Beutler looks to slip through the primaryto a fall matchup against Democratic newcomer Marie Glusenkamp Perez, a race the incumbent will likely win handily.
The same dynamic played out in central Washington’s 4th District, where grifter/candidate Loren Culp, former NASCAR driver Jerrod Sessler, and state Rep. Brad Klippert are splitting up the 43 percent of the primary electorate to the right of incumbent Rep. Dan Newhouse, who also voted for impeachment. Newhouse currently has about 27 percent, compared to just under 26 percent for Democrat Doug White. Expect a walkover for Newhouse in the fall.
In both races, the far right’s lack of unity combined with aggressive independent spending by mainstream Republican PACs produced results that leave pluralities of voters without a candidate.
In the 3rd, Kent’s been complaining for months that St. John was a spoiler candidate, perhaps in league with Republicans who want to preserve Herrera Beutler. Whether that Machiavellian intent turns out to be true, the effect was the same. A big independent campaign — paid for by donors currently shrouded in secrecy — on St. John’s behalf helped her win 12 percent of the vote, which looks like enough to make Kent into a political footnote.
Over in the 4th, Culp has been railing on Twitter about the big independent PAC campaign labeling him a con man and a tax cheat. There may never be a clearer instance of the influence of money on politics. The campaign — much of which is based on the Observer’s reporting about Culp, surely helped peel off enough of the anti-Newhouse vote to Sessler and Klippert. Culp’s currently getting less than 22 percent to White’s 26 percent.
Part of these results can be chalked up to “bad candidate.” Both Kent and Culp are carpetbaggers, recent transplants to their districts looking for an opportunistic win. They’re also toting significant negative baggage in those carpetbags. That’s a recipe for like-minded primary opponents, which is exactly what they got.
All this raises interesting questions for Republicans about how to deal with a restive and frustrated faction on the party’s rightward flank; about 40 percent of the electorate in both districts will come away unhappy with Tuesday’s result.
It raises even more interesting questions about two alternative systems of voting — approval voting and ranked-choice voting — that will come before voters in Seattle in the fall. Both systems are designed to eliminate results in which a candidate squeaks through the primary with a comparatively small chunk of the vote. And both systems might well have produced different results in the 3rd and the 4th.
Anderson slipping past Republicans in SoS race
Speaking of lack of party unity, the crowd of candidates on the right in the Secretary of State’s race looks to let Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson move on to November with less than 13 percent of the vote.
Anderson, who’s running as an independent, was always the most potent potential adversary for Democrat Steve Hobbs, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to replace Republican Kim Wyman. Any of the Republicans would have given us a pretty generic D-vs.-R race, which Hobbs likely wins with relative ease.
Anderson looks like a tougher out. As the elections official for one of the state’s largest counties, she gets to make the qualified-for-the-job argument. Hobbs, you’ll remember, mostly has the job because Inslee wanted him out of the Senate.
Larkin might edge past Dunn in the 8th CD
Matt Larkin had generally been considered the lesser-known of the three Republicans running for a chance to out Democratic U.S. Rep. Kim Shrier in the 8th Congressional District. Rival Jesse Jensen had pulled in 48 percent of the vote against Schrier in 2020, while Reagan Dunn is the son of the late U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn and a longtime King County councilmember representing much of the district.
But all the mud that independent groups threw around against Jensen and Dunn may have benefitted Larkin, who plowed a bunch of his own money into a campaign designed to cast him as the true homegrown conservative in the race. As of Tuesday morning, Larkin was leading Dunn by fewer than 1,000 votes. Jensen looks to finish a slow fourth.
Schrier has less than 50 percent of the vote, which is never a good look for an incumbent. But the late-arriving vote frequently tilts left, so that might change by Friday. Whoever wins on the Republican side will have some fence-mending to do.
Expensive campaigns to flip the Legislature look like duds
We’ve written extensively about Republicans’ plans to flip control of the Legislature, especially an unusually aggressive pre-primary campaign by Republican PACs to peel the bark off of nominally vulnerable Democrats in Senate races. This week’s results don’t look good for the GOP so far.
In Snohomish County’s 44th District, where the GOP money came after Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, with particular gusto, Lovick is currently sitting on 59 percent of the vote.
In the 26th District, considered Democrats’ most vulnerable seat, first-term incumbent Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, had 53 percent of the vote in the first round of her face-off with Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor. That’s the race most likely to be influenced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. Randall is among the Legislature’s biggest champions of abortion rights, while Young is arguably the most anti-abortion politician in Olympia.
In the 30th District, Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, had 55 percent of the vote in her race against Republican Linda Kochmar.
In South King County’s 47th District, the seat being vacated by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, looks better than expected for Democrats. Kent City Council President Bill Boyce “won” the primary with just under 45 percent of the vote. But Democrats Claudia Kauffman and Satwinder Kaur were splitting about 55 percent. That doesn’t look good for Boyce, considered one of Republicans’ best candidates, in November.
Up in Whatcom County’s 42nd District, the news was somewhat better for Republicans. Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, has 47 percent of the vote in the race to fill the Senate seat formerly held by the late Doug Ericksen. Republican Simon Sefzik, who was appointed to the seat after Ericksen’s death, had about 33 percent of the vote. Sefzik, who was appointed to the seat by the Democrat-friendly Whatcom County Council at the tender age of 22, turned aside a primary challenge from Ben Elenbaas, a Republican member of that council. That result sets up a revenge scenario for Sefzik. Shewmake beat his mother, Jennifer Sefzik, in a crazy-expensive House race in 2020. The elder Sefzik narrowly won the primary that year.
Senate Republicans also spent aggressively in attempts to broaden the battlefield into districts generally considered safer for Democrats. Here’s how that went:
Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, the prime sponsor of the capital gains tax is winning with nearly 60 percent in the 38th District.
Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, the chairman of the Transportation Committee, who pushed through a massive spending package including various tax and fee increases, has 63 percent of the vote.
Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, was pulling in 66 percent of the vote in the 45th District, which she won in a special election in 2017 after the death of Republican Andy Hill.
Democratic PACs spent in defense of some of these candidates, although in smaller amounts.
The current makeup of the Legislature is mostly the product of the 2018 election, considered a wave year for Democrats. That wave didn’t recede here in 2020, and there’s no real indication it’s going to wash back out to sea this year. It’s starting to look less like a wave and more like a sea change.
We’ll have more on the primary results in The Sunday Observer.
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A dose of summertime dog
Thanks to Washington’s vote-by-mail rules, roughly half the vote is still outstanding, so we reserve the right to be wrong about some of this in the coming days.
In states with stronger party systems, some control gets exercised on who gets to run under what label. In Washington, that discipline gets exercised ad hoc via independent spending by party-affiliated groups.
I’m told that my disdain for improper punctuation makes me an elitist, but I could never get past the fact that whoever wrote Kent’s press releases doesn’t know how to use the apostrophe.