Aug 18 2009

Primary, first run

Published by at 7:51 pm under Washington

Nickels

Greg Nickels

The first-run King County results are up (released at 8:15; the next round is supposed to come at 10) and they follow a certain pattern: Most races are unsurprising, but there’s usually a joker somewhere. About 16.6% of the ballots are counted, but some points can be clearly made.

The Seattle bag tax was expected to fail, and the early results look definitive enough to say: It will. Other west-coast entities considering similar measures (as quite a few have), take note.

The King County executive race is so far running about the way it was widely expected to, with former TV news anchor Susan Hutchison running decisively in the lead with 37.4%, and County Council member Dow Constantine in a clear far ahead of the six other contenders with 22.4%. (Third place is legislator Fred Jarrett at 12%.) Barring some strange trend in the ballots remaining, the fall contest looks like Hutchison-Constantine.

Initial take is that, for the general, Constantine starts with the edge. Among the major candidates, Hutchison was considered the more conservative Republican in the race – the only one – while Constantine was running as one of four moderate/liberal Democrats (all veteran local elected officials) who split up that portion of the vote. If a revote were held instantly, Hutchison might add somewhat to her 37.4%, but Constantine logically should pull most of the support from voters for Jarrett, Ross Hunter (10.9%) and Larry Phillips (11.7%) – a total of 57%. Hutchison needed a vote much closer to the 50% mark to put her in a front-runner position.

That’s a starting-gate estimate, of course; the campaign has yet to be run, and much can change. And we have get to see how the percentages shift as more ballots come in.

Most interest – and this is the surprise in the group – is Seattle mayor, in which incumbent Greg Nickels, who because of his incumbency logically should be running a clear first in this primary just because the opposition is split among seven others including a veteran council member . . . well, isn’t running first, or second either. At the moment three candidates are all running very close for first place: Nickels (25.1%), Mike McGinn (26.6%) and Joe Mallahan (25.8%). In present counting, fewer than a thousand votes separate third-place Nickels from first-place McGinn, so this contest is way too close to call, and probably will be for several days out.

But there is a takeaway, and it is this: Even if Nickels survives the primary, his chances in the general are, as the lawyers would say, de minimis. An incumbent in a primary like this should get, or at least approach, half of the total vote if his position is decently strong at all. An incumbent getting a quarter of the vote in a field of modest candidates (no insult intended, but the group isn’t a collection of established local political superstars) is extraordinarily weak. In the primary, the anti-incumbent vote was splintered among a bunch of candidates; the mayor won’t have that luxury next time. Nickels will need either an amazing campaign or astounding luck to survive the next contest in November. If he gets there.

Update after 10 . . .

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