Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Jay Inslee and the Split Ticket in Washington State

Ticket splitting in America isn't what it used to be. Time was when many, if not most voters in the south cast their ballot for the Republican Presidential nominee and for a Democrat for Congress. Of course old-time southern Democrats were actually more conservative than Nixon. North Dakota has had a long tradition of supporting Republicans for President while also electing liberal Democrats to Congress. In 2004, one out of every six voters in North Dakota voted for Bush and for Democrat Byron Dorgan for Senate.

I mention these facts because many voters in my home state of Washington split their tickets between the Presidential and gubernatorial races, and this year is expected to be no exception. In 2004, John Kerry beat Bush by 206K votes, and Democrat Christine Gregoire won her gubernatorial race against Dino Rossi by 133 votes. That is not a misprint. I guess Kerry must have gotten a lot of votes from Republicans who just couldn't stand Bush. In 2008, Gregoire squared off against Rossi again. In that year, Obama beat McCain in Washington by a whopping 521K votes (1,750K to 1,229K) and Gregoire beat Rossi 1,518K to 1,335K. That means more than two hundred thousand Obama voters did not support Gregoire, although few of their votes seem to have gone to Rossi.

I love to recall the 2008 race. Why? In the Presidential race, late polls in Washington showed Obama leading McCain by about 16. The final margin was 17. At the same time, the final poll in the gubernatorial race showed Gregoire leading Rossi by 6, which turned out to be exactly the final margin on election day. And yet the day before the election, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer boldly predicted victory for Rossi. This article seems to have disappeared from the P-I archives, but I managed to find a complete copy, which I am only too glad to reprint at the end of this post. Sadly, the P-I ceased print publication in 2009.

I mention these old voting stats for a reason. This year, Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee is running against Attorney General Rob McKenna for the open Governor's seat. Here is the most recent poll from Washington:

SurveyUSA, 8/3/12:
Obama 54%, Romney 37%
Inslee 48%, McKenna 45%

To summarize, we've seen this show before. These numbers translate to around two hundred thousand voters who are ready to support President Obama but for some reason want a Republican in the Governor's office. I don't know who these voters are, but I do know that Rob McKenna would be a very, very bad Governor. To see Inslee ahead at this point is encouraging. McKenna has higher name recognition, and has spent more money so far. His terrible record on health care reform should be enough to keep too many Obama supporters from voting for him, even if they're too independently minded to vote the straight Democratic ticket.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

November 3, 2008 | Lathrop, Daniel
Byline: DANIEL LATHROP P-I reporter
With voter participation surging outside the Seattle metropolitan area, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire's re-election campaign faces a turnout deficit in her rematch against 2004 opponent Dino Rossi.
A Seattle P-I analysis of voting returns in Washington shows that increased turnout in Republican-dominated counties gives Rossi an edge and that Gregoire needs to either improve her margins or achieve nearly universal participation in the Democratic stronghold of King County to win.
To conduct the analysis, the P-I collected ballot return statistics from all 39 counties late last week, updating as many as possible Friday.
As of Friday, King County had the fifth-worst turnout among absentee voters and the lowest percentage of total voters to cast a ballot, the P-I found.
The two counties with the best turnout in the figures the P-I obtained were Jefferson, 63.6 percent, and Pacific, 61.6 percent. Both went for Gregoire in 2004.
Despite those bright spots for Gregoire, the analysis shows that the Republican Rossi likely would win if relative turnout does not increase in King County and the state's political fault lines remain similar to 2004. Most of the 14 counties that already have had more than half of voters cast a ballot went for Rossi in 2004.
Based on 2004 precinct totals, this year's early voting in King County favors Gregoire by a similar margin.
Of course, both candidates are doing their best to shift those four-year-old political boundaries and have targeted voters they think they can persuade.
"With an election so close, there are votes to be had across the state," Gregoire spokesman Aaron Toso said. "That's why the governor has been running a 'One Washington' campaign."
Toso pointed to Gregoire's improved performance in the primary this year over 2004, increasing her margin over Rossi in King County and pulling past him in Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties, where she lost to him in 2004.
Indeed, in the waning days of the election, Gregoire has made stops all over the state, including recent visits to Spokane, Whitman and Clark counties, often considered hostile territory for Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, Toso said, campaign volunteers have made more than 600,000 calls in an "unprecedented" get-out-the-vote effort launched when absentee voting began Oct. 15.
"It's a different kind of field campaign. A high turnout helps Democrats in general, and we're feeling good at where we're at," Toso said.
But one of the state's top Democratic pollsters sees those efforts largely canceling each other out.
"I think this is going to be a very similar dynamic to what you saw last time. I don't think that there's anything out there that's going to make a big difference in, say, Snohomish or Pierce or Kitsap," said Don McDonough of DMA Market Research in Seattle. McDonough has worked for many of the state's most prominent Democrats, but is not affiliated with the Gregoire campaign.
So far, 42 percent of King County absentees have voted, about 28 percent of the total registered voters. In contrast, at least 14 counties had already had more than half of registered voters return their ballots. In 2004, Gregoire beat Rossi 58 percent to 40 percent in King.
The dynamics of nearly universal vote-by-mail have not yet been tested in a gubernatorial election. Since 2004, the state has gone from having five vote-by-mail counties to 37. Rossi has polled in the mid- to high 40s, but undecided voters historically favor challengers over incumbents.
"What will save Gregoire is higher Democratic turnout and a better Democratic ground operation" than in 2004, McDonough said. "Now what will hurt her is Barack Obama's tendency maybe to turn that focus to states that are battlegrounds."
The Obama campaign launched a major effort Saturday to boost turnout by Democratic voters in Washington, but with Obama polling much better than Gregoire, that effort could be a mixed blessing.
Another "X" factor remains whether the voters who turn out for Democratic presidential candidate Obama will be so-called Dinocrats, voters who backed Democratic nominee John Kerry for president in 2004 but voted for Rossi in the governor's race.
"Our campaign has extensive get-out-the-vote efforts in both King and Pierce counties that include organized phone banking and doorbelling," Rossi campaign spokeswoman Jill Strait said.
"Turning out voters in both counties is of vital importance to winning this election, and with the 'Dinocrat' movement and the double-digit lead Dino has among young voters, we anticipate strong support from even traditionally Democrat-leaning areas.
Nationally, Gregoire is considered the most endangered Democratic governor or senator and Rossi as the best shot for a major Republican upset. Republicans hope to repeat the upset that Republican Dan Evans pulled when he beat Gov. Al Rosellini, a Democrat, in 1964, the year of President Johnson's rout of Republican challenger Barry Goldwater.
So far, independent polling has given an edge to Gregoire, with 50 percent to 51 percent.
It was voters in King County, the state's largest, whose overwhelming backing of Gregoire in 2004 clinched the razor-thin election, and so far they are voting at one of the lowest rates in this election, and the turnout dynamics discovered by the P-I indicate surprising weakness in the Democratic stronghold compared with other areas.
If King County votes at the level predicted by elections officials here - 85 percent - a repeat of Rossi's 2004 margins would put him over the top unless the political landscape somehow improves for Gregoire.
In that dynamic, one bright spot for the Democrat is Jefferson County, home to Port Townsend, which she won overwhelmingly in 2004. Gregoire won nearly 58 percent of the vote there in 2004, and Jefferson County had the highest early voting rate in the state: 63.6 percent of voters already had cast a ballot Friday. Historically, Jefferson is one of the counties with the highest turnout.
"Jefferson County? It's just something in the water. It's a very politically active county," said Nick Handy, elections director for the secretary of state.
In the many less-populous, Republican-dominated counties, Handy attributed the high turnout seen so far to handfuls of "super-vigilant party activists," who in small counties can drive a significant amount of voter turnout.
Secretary of State Sam Reed has predicted 83 percent statewide turnout, a rate that would be reached if trends hold in most counties and if King County performs slightly better than it has so far.
While about half of mail-in ballots are typically returned before the week of the election, state elections analyst David Motz said that it is not clear whether the turnout surge outside the Seattle metropolitan area indicates that voters there will vote more heavily than voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
"People that are waiting until the last minute to vote are probably still thinking about the issues and the candidates," he said. "In a metro area, you're going to have a more diverse population and therefore maybe more undecideds."

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