There is one question that keeps thousands of political consultants well-paid every year: “Who are the undecided voters?” Often, a candidate will start with the 30-40% support of their party faithful, and then tries for the next year to win the hearts and minds of these mysterious 20% who split their ticket and vote for candidates of all political stripes. Knowing who these people are helps, knowing what persuades them is even better.
This year, we have a unique opportunity to examine the Republican side of this equation with the County Executive race between Jack Louws and Doug Ericksen. Ericksen was endorsed by the Whatcom GOP and supported by the traditional republican establishment (Charlie Crabtree, Luanne Van Wervan, etc) while Jack Louws built a broad coalition of support made up of solid conservatives (especially from his days as Mayor of Lynden), to the support of the Whatcom Democrats (not an endorsement but a “recommendation”).
Now Doug Ericksen was counting on two factors for his election. First, he was taking a page from Dan Pike’s strategy, or visa versa, and eating into Louws’ conservative support. He sent out a number of negative mailers attacking Jack Louws for not being anti-tax enough. Ericksen promised to never raise taxes, while Louws said that he didn’t want to rule anything out but he would prefer not to raise taxes. Ericksen, and his supporters also made a big deal over Jack Louws receiving the endorsement from David Stalheim (the candidate from Planned Parenthood and Progressive Majority! Watch out!) You can see Charlie Crabtree (Ericksen supporter) making that argument here.
The second part of his strategy was the belief that Democrats would not bring themselves to support Jack Louws. Take a look at this quote in an interview with conservative writer Jeremy Lott, “He also argued one reason that Louws may have a hard time winning the county executive seat is that he’s too conservative to appeal to snobbish Bellingham liberals. “Jack is still Jack,” Ericksen said. “He’s still pro-life. He’s still the former mayor of Lynden,” and that may prove a bridge too far for many of the voters Louws needs to drive him to victory.” Okay, setting aside the condescension towards voters from Bellingham, it looks like he was hoping that the Democrats would sit this race out. It looks like they didn’t.
So how are we going to examine this race? I am using this hypothesis. If you take Jack Louws votes in every precinct and subtract out the votes that Christina Maginnis received, the remain should be people who supported Jack Louws AND Sam Crawford. In other words, moderate Republicans. Now there are a few flaws with this plan. There is drop off (when people vote in the County Executive race but do not vote in the Council races), and the dynamics of each race might skew certain precincts. But as a whole, it is not a bad place to start. So let’s look at the maps, shall we?
So the equation for this map is
(Louws Votes – Maginnis Votes)/Total votes = % Difference
As you can see, it is a bit of a scatter-shot. Things that jump out right away. Jack Louws did very well in Lynden compared to Maginnis. Not exactly a shock, but reassuring to see. Also, it reenforces the concept of the “Lynden suburb”. I define this as the precincts surrounding Lynden that are outside the city limits. These precincts tend to vote whole-sale with Lynden, and do not behave like generic county voters. Anyone trying to win the Lynden vote should probably spend some solid time in the “suburb” as well as within the Lynden precincts.
Turn your eye to the Bellingham Map. Most of it is Blue-ish purple, meaning that the voters there supported Maginnis but did NOT vote for Jack Louws. It seems as if the city was going to fulfill Ericksen’s prophecy of being unable to bring themselves to support Louws, however look at Fairhaven. LOTS of support pouring in for Jack. I looked at the raw numbers and Louws was beating Ericksen by an almost 3 to 1 margin. Louws did better Fairhaven than he did in his home turf of Lynden. So conclusion? Fairhaven saved Jack Louws’ bacon and probably significantly helped handing him the Executive seat. Something to remember as he governs.
What about Ericksen? Well it looks like he did pretty well around his hometown of Ferndale, keeping Jack Louws numbers even with Maginnis (i.e. all the Republicans voted for Ericksen). Also, Ericksen held his base in Blaine, with significant support from the Blaine community. Nothing like being elected for the last twelve years to make people remember your name.
Aside from that, I think that the answer to the question, where are the moderate republicans, is that it depends on the race. You could say that east Bellingham, especially around Alabama Hill and the Lake has some moderate Republicans, or that the Acme/Deming/South Fork area deserves some time and attention, but most of these trends can be traced to candidate issues. Sam Crawford sold out the South Fork to gravel miners this year, and as a result, lost some votes there, which drives up Maginnis’ count and hides the true amount of moderates there. Maybe.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, you can look at the data all you like, but in the end, all you have is data. You cannot determine exactly why people voted the way they did. I’m open to other theories and interpretations, feel free to leave them below.