One of the most interesting of Washington legislative races remains so, after the primary results and concession – by an incumbent – are in.

That is in Clark County’s 17th District, a close-margin district where the state senator is a Republican and the other representative a Democrat. Representative Jim Dunn, who has been a legislator from the area for a long time (since 1996 save for a term out from 2002-04), ran into trouble last and this year over what were called “boorish” statements to women, serious enough that his party’s leaders took away his committee assignments.

In the top-two primary election, Dunn faced fellow Republican Joseph James and Democrat Tim Probst. Voters in the district, notably the Republican voters, must have taken the leaders’ hint about Dunn, giving him just 18.5% of the vote – a real crush for an incumbent. James got 33.2% and Probst 48.2%; considering that the Republican vote generally should consolidate around James in the fall, this provides an early suggestion of a tight general election.

This is another case, though, where the top-two approach to Washington primaries wound up making no difference. In a Republican primary, James clearly would have defeated Dunn – the margins are too wide to allow for any othr interpretation – and James and Probst would have faced off just the same.

One of the top Washington races to watch a couple of months from now.

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Jim Gilbert

Jim Gilbert

The prospects for the Independent Party of Oregon seemed to take a hit a few months back when its lead candidate, its candidate for the U.S. Senate, John Frohnmayer, dropped out. Or maybe that evolved into an opportunity. The Independents (capital I) still are running some candidates of their own this cycle, and they are growing, now the third largest party in the state. But their more significant role could be in their cross-endrosement of major party, Democratic and Republican, candidates.

They have endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Merkley (Democrat), 1st District House candidate Joel Haugen (Republican), and others. In some close races, and in races where the middle of the electorate is at stake, their participate could matter – how much, we have yet to see. But maybe the most interesting measure could come in state House District 18, where the endorsee – just announced today – is a Democrat named Jim Gilbert.

District 18 is a rural region in eastern Marion and Clackamas counties, historically strongly Republican, and by most evidence remains so: End of July voter registration there ran Republican 13,660, Democratic 11,319. The Republican incumbent, Vic Gilliam, has served almost the whole current term, but was appointed to the seat in December 2006, to replace Mac Sumner, who was ill. In the 2006 general election, Sumner defeated Gilbert, a Mollala nursery owner, with 53.9% of the vote. Not a big percentage considering that Sumner was an incumbent, and had beaten Gilbert in 2004 with 56.9%. Put another way, Gilbert improved his track record from 2004 to 2006.

His race now against Gilliam is not much on the radar screen – doesn’t seem to be making the short lists of races to watch most closely, maybe because of the still-Republican tilt of the district and maybe because he’s run unsuccessfully twice before.

But the district, like many other places in Oregon, is less Republican now than it was in November 2006 (there were then 14,114 Republicans to 10,445 Democrats – a larger gap than this summer). Another indicator of change in the district: In the May primary, Gilbert got 5,494 votes and Gilliam 5,141, a sharp reversal from May 2006 (when Gilbert got 3,070 votes and Sumner 4,056 and two other Republicans 1,085 – or, Democrat 3,070 versus Republicans 5,141). Taken together, this suggests a Gilbert win isn’t entirely out of reason.

And, this time, there’s the Independent Party endorsement of Gilbert, which means more money but also, maybe more important, some cover and other backing to suggest that Gilbert is the centrist candidate, in a district with 281 Independent Party members and 6,358 non-affiliated voters.

If Gilbert does win, this race could put the Independent Party on the radar screen right alongside its endorsed candidate. And candidates.

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The lousy newspaper news just keeps a coming: Mass layoffs, of 100 full-timers and some undetermined number of part-timers, at the Portland Oregonian.

Full documentation available at, of course, Willamette Week. And maintains that about half, maybe more, of the full-time departures will be coming out of the newsroom.

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Idaho was one of the places where former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was most popular during his presidential run, and there’s a lot of preference among Idaho Republicans for Republican nominee-presumptive John McCain to name him as running mate. Possibly; national reports say Romney’s in the mix; though we’d put odds at less than even.

Still doesn’t explain the issues page on the campaign web site of Julie Ellsworth, a former Republican legislator from Boise defeated for re-elected in 2006 and trying for a return this year. Have a look. (Hat tip to one of our readers.)

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We don’t much cover criminal cases here, on the thought that not many of them say much about the larger scene – just the sad, unfortunate or sometimes bad behavior or incidents in specific cases. But a personal note in the fine blog run by Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review points out the impact they can have.

She has been covering the Joseph Duncan trial in Boise; the Duncan case, which has been very big news in Idaho and the Spokane area, involves a truly horrific swath of murder, kidnapping, torture, rape and more, is well set up for generation of nightmares. She makes the case for thorough coverage, but also notes this.

On Friday night, after three days of intense immersion in the blood-drenched reality of the Joseph Duncan case, I came home from the courthouse only to find blood smeared all over my bathroom floor. I couldn’t help it; I screamed. It turned out the cat had killed a mouse in there; my husband kindly cleaned up the mess while I freaked. Then, last night, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. to a strange noise on the back patio, followed by the sound of our back patio door softly sliding open, then back shut. I froze. Lying petrified in bed, my first, half-asleep, panicked thought was that someone had come for our kids.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. My teenage daughter, who was leaving for college in the morning, was still up, and had gone out back to spray-paint a shelf she’s taking for her dorm room. The strange noise was her shaking the spray-paint can.

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This may be one of the biggest news stories of the month in the Northwest that you never see or hear of through the mass media – because it concerns the key news pipeline of the mass media, the Associated Press.

Editor and Publisher (the newspaper industry’s trade publication) reports that the Idaho Falls Post-Register has given notice to the AP that it will drop the service in two years, in August 2010. Anyone familiar with how the mews media actually work will know this to be a shocker, and maybe an indicator of one of the places where newspapers are going in years to come. The Post-Register is independently and locally owned, which on one hand mean its financial pressures (still quite real) probably are less than at many chain newspapers. But it also means the paper is more flexible, and may be looking at options still burbling through some chain bureaucracies.

Most of what you see in most daily newspapers comes by way of the AP, a news cooperative; the newspapers share content between themselves (are contractually obligated to) and also get material generated by AP writers and editors, which work at offices in all larger cities and cover statewide and regional matters as well. The AP has offices in such places as Seattle, Olympia, Spokane, Portland and Boise. Years ago, it had serious competition from another wire service, United Press International, but UPI’s local and regional coverage essentially has disappeared. The AP has become, for American newspapers, an obligatory monopoly.

Or is it obligatory? Post-Register Publisher Roger Plothow seemed to indicate in his letter that a different rate plan, that more closely reflects the specific services his paper uses from AP, might persuade him to stay. (The dropout letter comes on the heels of a new rate plan that would cost the paper $114,000 next year.) But if he carries through on his stated intent to drop AP service, he will be exploring new territory in terms of coverage – even reinventing what a local newspaper does, and how.

From his letter to AP President Tom Curley: “I’ll put my cards on the table – I’m not sure how we’re going to pull this off. While the AP’s value to us has been severely diminished over the years, it still does provide a handful of services that we haven’t been able to find elsewhere – yet. I’m betting, however, that it’s only a matter of time. More likely, we’ll use that time to become essentially 100 percent local, which is probably where we’re headed eventually anyway. . . . Of course, my greatest fear is that 24 months from now I’ll have found no antidote to the AP and come crawling back to you, and you’ll either send me away or offer me an even worse deal. On the other hand, this might be just the motivation we need to really come up with a workable alternative.”

Up close and personal with the newspaper industry, as it’s going through its time or troubles, and re-evaluation.

FOUR MORE Three more papers in the Northwest (and a California paper at Bakersfield) also say they will drop out: The Spokane Spokesman-Review, the Yakima Herald-Republic and the Wenatchee World. Spokesman editor Steve Smith is indicating that his attorneys think that paper may not have to wait two years to drop service.

This is an enormously big deal – the transformation of newspapers and news as we have known them. What that will mean, we all have yet to find out.

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The Washington state top two primary seems not to have made massive changes, so far as early returns indicate, in the kind of results you might have expected from more conventional primary approaches. In case after case, where it could happen, voters wound up picking conventional Democratic-Republican matchups for November.

In U.S. House District 7, there’s been the talk about maybe Democratic Representative Jim McDermott facing off with a Democrat in November. Maybe another time, but not this year: He pulled 73.1% of the vote and put Republican Steve Beren (at 15.1%) in second place. The two other Democrats on the ballot were far behind.

Similarly, 3rd District Democrat Brian Baird (51.7%) will face Republican Michael Delavar (19%) instead of anti-war Democrat Cheryl Crist (13.3%).

The old-style wide-open Washington primaries used to be taken as rough mass polls – if the primary field wasn’t too drastically different from that of the general, you could often get a sense of the voting patterns from the primary, when voters were about to choose evenly among all the candidates. Will that work out this time?

We’ll get a chance to see.

In the 8th House District, one of the hottest congressional races in the region, incumbent Republican Dave Reichert (47.8%) can maybe take a little heart from finishing at least ahead of Democratic challenger Darcy Burner (44.5%). But not ahead by much, and short of 50%; and about 5% of the vote unaccounted for between the two of them went to two minor Democratic candidates. So Burner has some legitimate talking points here too. The takeaway is that, yes, the 8th looks as hot as everything has thought it was – based on the primary numbers.

Our long-running sense that Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire is ahead, though not massively, of Republican challenger Dino Rossi, also gets some support. She pulled 49.2% to Rossi’s 45% – enough that she can claim an advantage, but well short of a lead that would put Rossi away. He appears to be behind but in striking distance, were silver bullet found. (He appears not to have found it yet.)

Similarly in the attorney general’s race, incumbent Rob McKenna took 55.7% to Democrat John Ladenburg‘s 44.3% – not enough to put Ladenburg away, but enough to show a definite lead (and some challenge for Ladenburg by way of catching up in time).

Elsewhere among the statewides, the most interesting number may be in the lands commissioner race. Incumbent Republican Doug Sutherland pulled 50.3% to Democrat Peter Goldmark‘s 49.7% – which suggests one heck of a race for November.

Not a game-changer of a primary, as it turns out, but replete with pointers for November.

BTW A caveat here: Voter turnout, at 24.4%, was low – lower than expected, and of course much lower than the general will be. So some of these results could shift significantly as large numbers of people vote in the fall.

THE TIE A tied vote on Tuesday between the two top finishers doesn’t really matter, since both advance to November anyway. Still. Veteran incumbent Republican state Senator Mike Carrell of Lakewood tied (at late Tuesday night’s count) with Democratic challenger Debi Srail. Quoth the Tacoma News Tribune: “Incumbent Sen. Mike Carell, R-Lakewood, might be feeling a little tight around the collar about now.”

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What was that old line or political counsel (applicable elsewhere too), that when you’re in a hole, stop digging?

A rather deep hole is what Oregon 5th District Republican candidate Mike Erickson was in even before this weekend’s Oregonian account of his travels to Cuba. (Description from Jeff Mapes’ blog: “The problem for Erickson is that the trip’s itinerary was heavy on cigar dinners and other pleasure activities (cock fighting was even offered as an option) and silent on anything of a humanitarian nature.”) He’d have done about as well as he could it he’d delivered a quick dismissive line and let it go.

But no. Check out this for viewing a political mistake in motion.

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Rather than tonight, since we’re on the road. But with luck, we’ll get some of the reviews and stats up early. And the races ought to be pretty much settled by late tonight.

Although, of course, that’s what people expected going into general election night 2004 . . .

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Abit parochial, maybe, but it’d be a heck of a deal of those few of us in the country west or south of Hillsboro, Oregon – a commuter rail that could run between Forest Grove and Cornelius and (this is the key part) could link p with the MAX line at Hillsboro. That would effectively extend MAX’s reach a dozen or so key miles out of town, to Pacific University and to the wine country.

The talks for so doing are evidently underway, and that could be a highly useful development for the country west of Portland, and might even given the Tri-Met system a useful shot. Although considering the increase in ridership owing to high gas prices, that may be only partly needed . . .

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There might be a good deal more of this sort of thing, not just in Boise but nationally, though Boise’s recent raft of corporate departures my make it a good study . . .

The story is that Larry L. Myers, formerly a vice president at Washington Group International, is suing URS Corporation – which bought WGI – for $2 million. The reason: Myers, who put in 31 years with the company, says his work agreement provided for substantial compensation if the company changed hands and he thereafter lost status or pay in the organization. And when the URS buy went through, he says, he did encounter some loss, but not the compensation part of the deal.

We may not have heard the last of this.

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The initial easy reaction to the Oregonian Sunday story about Mike Erickson‘s Cuba travel may be either that it’ just a piling on, or too peripheral at this point to matter.

But it may matter, some.

The story in Sunday’s Oregonian is about trip that Erickson – now the Republican nominee in Oregon’s 5th U.S. House district – made for six days in 2004. He has describe it as a “humanitarian trip,” and there’s apparently no dispute that he provided a substantial donation (the precise amount is in some dispute) for Cubans, and traveled there in the process of delivery.

What’s new, in the Oregonian‘s report, is a description of the trip that puts it in a very different frame: A pro forma (albeit real) donation delivered just sufficiently and directly enough to give the donors, who included Erickson, legal clearance from the United States to travel to Cuba; after which, most of the time and energy went into Havana night clubs and other tourist spots. Nothing illegal or unethical here, other than that this description of the trip clashes sharply with Erickson’s. (And still does.)

This might not have much to do with the 5th district race (in which Democrat Kurt Schrader now is favored) except that it reinforces a growing string of disputed and controversial statements Erickson has made about himself and his background: It deepens and enhances the narrative.

And since that narrative is the biggest reason he’s now likely to lose a race he once might credibly have won, that does matter.

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