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Intensity central

After rolling around western Washington and Oregon in the tail end of this campaign season, we can isolate the geogrpahic area where politics has gone into overdrive: Bellevue, Washington.

signs at Bellevue

We’ve watched the action around Oregon and Idaho and other parts of Washington, nothing seems to match the visibility and intensity of politics on the east side of King County. Our runaround on the Eastside in the last couple of days was startling for . . . well, for the signage, to start with.

On major roads, there seem to be large areas of Bellevue where political signs probably average one for every five or six feet. On road islands (like this one) they’re planted so thickly only the tall plants can see the sun. And there’s no lack of yard signs in yards, either. Turnon the TV here (well, anywhere in the Seattle area) and you’re swamped by political ads – clearly a heavier load of them than in Oregon or Idaho, or eastern Washington.

Part of all this no doubt comes from the mashup of close and hot races in this area. The hottest congressional race in Washington, probably in the Northwest, is here – based around Bellevue – in the Washington 8th district. On top of that, about a half-dozen of the dozen or so top legislative races in the state are based within a half-hour drive of Bellevue, to its north and south. The margins in the U.S. Senate race – which in contest isn’t a tossup but in which margins are still at stake – will be settled to a considerable extent here.

But there’s also more.

signs at RedmondHistorically, the Eastside has been a Republican area – a dozen years ago, its state legislative delegation was solidly GOP, and it routinely and easily re-elected Republicans to Congress. But the patterns have been changing in the last decade, and Democrats have – seemingly – pulled about even. This election could be highly telling: Was that the offchance development of a few elections, not to be sustained, or were we seeing a local sea change? (From our perspective, the answer has broad interest, because some of the same dynamics and trends are visible on a smaller scale in places in Oregon and Idaho.)

All of this seemed most directly centered at Bellevue, the largest city and focal point of the Eastside. The farther from it you get, you notice some diminished political intensity. But even at Issaquah, where we stopped for lunch today at Extreme Pizza, a determined political conversation was underway at the next table. It’s like Vegas, only with politics: You don’t have to look far for some action.

So there’s a good deal at stake, and both parties are well aware of it. We swung by the campaign office of Darcy Burner, the Democratic challenger in the 8th, to get a sense of whether the campaigns seem to match the externals for intensity. Hers certainly does. The headquarters at Bellevue sprawl around a Banner Bank office complex, apparently expanding to take up more space recently. They seemed to need every cubic inch. People were jammed in, running in and out, mostly talking on the phones; one staffer we talked to said she didn’t figure she was doing her job unless the campaign’s volunteers were keeping every line – and there were a lot of lines – busy. Her opponent, incumbent Republican Dave Reichert, has been running a charging campaign too; we couldn’t find his headquarters but assume it looks a lot like Burner’s.

Live on the Eastside, and no one had to tell you there’s only a week to go.

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