Primary Wrap-Up

August 8th, 2022

We are now nearly one week out from Washington’s August primary.  Historically, the party of the president tends to lose seats in congress and in the Washington State legislature.  However, with the few remaining ballots left and the results counted to date, it is clear that a midterm red wave did not materialize. A few takeaways:

Republicans Underperformed in the Primary

Without exit polling, we cannot pinpoint precisely what went wrong for the legislative Republicans, but their lackluster performance likely resulted from the Dobbs decision that brought out pro-choice voters and a generally damaged brand among suburban voters. This performance was not for lack of recruitment effort by HROC and SRCC. The House Republican Organizational Committee as well as the Senate Republican Campaign Committee introduced a slate of district-appropriate women and people of color in suburban swing districts this year. One of these candidates, moderate Republican Carmen Goers, did not even survive the primary in a crowded field of more conservative Republicans. Once thought to be the frontrunner in a 47th House race, Goers ended in fifth place and will not advance. Goers was the top fundraiser in the race, outraising her combined opponents $184,000 to $153,735.  Republicans are completely out of the race for that seat, with democrats Auburn City Councilmember Chris Stearns and community organizer Dr. Shukri Olow in second place.

The most expensive race leading into the primary is the 26th Senate seat, also a swing district eyed by Republicans as a seat they could flip. Four years ago, democrat Emily Randall (D-26) narrowly won by 104 votes in the general. In the most recent primary, unabashedly progressive Randall is holding a 4 point lead over unabashedly conservative republican Jesse Young (R-26).  To date, Randall has raised over $404,000 with Young trailing narrowly at $395,000.  Based on the overall primary numbers, the 26th is likely the only Senate seat that is competitive enough for republicans to flip.  Expect even more money to be spent in this district.

In the swing 10th, a blue wave even threatens to take out incumbent Representative Greg Gilday (R-10) as veteran and environmental lawyer Clyde Shavers won 52% to 48%.  In the same district, Representative Dave Paul (D-10), currently the lone democrat in the district, has a commanding lead over republican challenger Karen Lesetmoe by 9 points. In the 2020 general, Paul only won by 738 votes.

There is one swing district where republicans performed better, the 42nd in Whatcom County. Representative Alicia Rule (D-42) secured just 48.68% of the vote against two republican challengers. In the race for Representative Sharon Shewmake’s vacant seat, two democrats pulled in just 48.24% of the vote against two republicans. And in the Senate, Sharon Shewmake ended with just 47.06% against two republicans, incumbent Senator Simon Sefzik (R-42) and farmer Ben Elenbas. Shewmake and Sefzik will advance to the general. The Senate race nearly went democrat four years ago with late Senator Doug Ericksen (R-42) winning by only 46 votes over the challenger.

Democrats Outraised Republicans

Overall, legislative democrats outraised republicans $10,123,000 to $8,113,319 and hold almost a $1.5 million lead in cash on hand.  In the world of Independent Expenditures, over $885,000 was spent supporting democrats and $731,000 for republicans.  The biggest number has been Independent Expenditures against candidates.  Over $1.4 million has been spent against democrats leading up to the primary.  About 70% of that was towards Senate seats republicans seemingly hoped to flip: June Robinson (D-38), Claire Wilson (D-30), John Lovick (D-44), and Emily Randall (D-26).  20% of the $1.4 million went against Manka Dhingra (D-45) and Marko Liias (D-21).  Each of those candidates had more than 60% of the primary vote.  This was a very interesting spend by the Leadership Council considering both Liias and Dhingra are in safe democrat districts.

Republicans Outspent Democrats

Democrats also have a financial advantage heading into the November election.  The House Democratic Campaign Committee has $475,000 cash on hand while the House Republican Organizational Committee only has $76,000. HROC spent close to $710,000 (90% of their total campaign chest) compared to the HDCC’s $313,000 (40% of their chest). The Senate democrats have over $780,000 cash on hand while the Senate republicans have a little over $493,000.

Meanwhile, for the Soft Money PACs, the Truman Fund (House Democrats) and the Reagan Fund (House Republicans) have roughly the same amount of cash on hand. The Kennedy Fund (Senate Democrats) and Leadership Council (Senate Republicans) are similarly situated. While the cash on hand totals are roughly the same, the amount spent by the Reagan Fund and Leadership Council is almost double what the Truman Fund and Reagan Fund spent.  Please see table below for a breakdown

Carry Over Contributions Expenditures Cash on Hand
HDCC $497,204.18 $290,203.25 $313,072.83 $474,334.60
WSDC $800,103.24 $366,796.73 $385,875.33 $781,024.64
Truman Fund $725,573.24 $1,043,025.42 $648,995.65 $1,119,603.01
Kennedy Fund $677,733.83 $678,855.56 $595,785.17 $760,804.22
HROC $468,375.45 $318,271.98 $710,378.03 $76,269.40
SRCC $440,495.95 $685,403.10 $632,610.49 $493,288.56
Reagan Fund $783,294.14 $1,458,058.77 $1,201,768.03 $1,039,584.88
Leadership Council $723,097.53 $1,286,000.00 $1,265,730.22 $743,367.31

Historic Secretary of State Race

Outside the legislature, appointed Secretary of State moderate democrat Steve Hobbs will advance to the general with independent candidate Julie Anderson, who currently serves as the nonpartisan Pierce County Auditor. Much of Anderson’s platform is to change the Secretary of State’s office to a nonpartisan position. Given no republicans will advance to the general, it will be interesting to see which candidates receive votes from those voters or whether republicans will sit out the race. Hobbs, a seasoned campaigner, is the first democrat to serve as Secretary of State since the appointment of republican Bruce Chapman in 1975. Washingtonians have consistently voted for republicans for this statewide office, even when republicans held no other statewide office.

Characteristically Dismal Primary Turnout

40% turnout for the primary seems shamefully low but was typical for midterm primaries in Washington. Primaries in Washington tend to bring out approximately half of the general election voters. Genuine swing voters do not usually come out in primaries.

That said, new voters are steadily appearing in suburban and urban districts. Population in Washington has increased by 100,000 people per year since 2012 and between 2020 and 2022, roughly 200,000 additional voters registered in the state. These new residents and voters are not locating themselves in rural Washington, as shown by recent redistricting, but in suburban and urban Washington, places that tend to be favored by moderate to left-leaning voters.

A Lot Can Change in Three Months

If the primary were the general, the Senate makeup would remain the same at 29 D and 20 R.  The House makeup would be 58 D and 40 R.  The only race that shows democrats flipping a House seat is the 10th (Gilday losing to Shavers).

It could be tempting to consider the primary results as case closed, but a world of time exists between the primary and general.  In the 2018 primary, moderate republican Sen. Joe Fain (R-47) had a 7 point lead over Mona Das. Six weeks before the general, a Seattle resident alleged via Twitter that Fain had sexually assaulted her years ago.  While there was a blue wave in 2018, it was speculated that the allegation ultimately led to Fain’s defeat.  Time and money can make many things possible.

Brynn Brady

Ceiba Consulting, Inc. | 253.686.3387