Election watchers had plenty to chew on after the final round of ballots were counted last week. When the dust had settled, Ericksen beat Fleetwood 57% to 43%. Ericksen’s allies declared victory, while many Democrats were left wondering what happened.
As always when looking at election numbers, there are no certainties. I have no magic device that lets me peer into the hearts of men and see what motivates them to vote one way or another but you can assemble theories and find evidence to support those theories.
Fewer people voted in this election than any similar primary. Just take a look at the turnout percentage in Whatcom County over the last several years – it is pretty clear that this is an outlier.
Traditionally, the lower the turnout, the worse Democrats do. Why the poor turnout? This is one of the earliest primaries Washington State has ever seen, meaning many people are clued out of the electoral process, instead waiting till fall before becoming involved.
Only half the voters that will turn in a ballot in November voted in the primary. Around 30,000 people voted in the primary and current predictions are saying somewhere between 60,000-65,000 people will vote in this race in November. The group of people that vote in the primary tend to be older, more conservative and more likely to support incumbents, while the general election crowd is younger, more environmental and more likely to “throw the bums out”.
Beyond that, of all the competitive senate races, Seth pulled even with the other Democratic challengers. With the exception of Matt Isenhower, the Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Andy Hill in the Democratic leaning 45th LD (Kirkland), the rest of the Democratic challengers this cycle only received around 43% of the vote. Shari Song, who we covered here, received 43%, Judy Arbogast running against ALEC member Sen. Jan Angel in Kitsap County received 43%, Tami Green out of Tacoma received 43%. The point is that it was a rough night for all the Democrats running and Fleetwood is still one of the top pickup opportunities in the state.
Finally, the state Republicans bombarded Fleetwood with negative mailers during the run up to the primary. The Fleetwood campaign responded with a few mailers over Ericksen’s ethical troubles but on a much smaller scale. As the Democratic candidates for County Council proved last year, negative campaigning works and it may have depressed votes in this race.
So what does this mean? For partisans on both sides, they will find all the justification they need to keep fighting hard. My take is that the 42nd is a difficult district for Democrats and it has grown harder since Linville was ousted in 2010. I can count on my hand the number of Democrats who have a fighting chance to beat Doug Ericksen. Seth Fleetwood is one of those people. I think this race is still very winnable. But only if people turn up and vote.