Dial back a couple of months to the August primary election for King County executive, and the results carried a clear portent - noted here - for the way things were likely to go in the November general.
The first place winner was former local news anchor Susan Hutchinson, a familiar face but new in local politics (never having held a public office), and a little more subtly the candidate from the right - the conservative; she got 33.1% of the vote. Second place, at 27%, was Dow Constantine, a liberal/moderate Democrat and a veteran on the county council. The next three vote-getters, whose percentages total to 35.2%, were all (speaking roughly) near-clones of Constantine politically: liberal/moderate Democrats with substantial elective experience in the county. The logical conclusion, assumed here, was that in rough terms Constantine's support would merge with theirs, yielding enough for a win in the head-to-head with Hutchinson; none of the other minor candidates were close reflections of Hutchinson. That's the way these kind of races ordinarily, structurally, work.
That conclusion, though, was built on an assumption: That in relatively liberal King County, in this non-partisan race, voters would draw the distinction in viewpoint and types of support between Constantine and Hutchinson. Two months on, with polling results showing Hutchinson in a lead, its unclear they have. Around the northwest in nonpartisan races, for such reasons, a number of jurisdictions elect Republicans in Democratic jurisdictions and Democrats in Republicans ones. King County just might do it this fall.
The campaigns are one reason for this. Constantine has only lately begun making the clear distinctions between himself and Hutchinson. And the telegenic Hutchinson has been doing a good job of fuzzing over the differences, sounding during this runoff campaign more like a moderate Democrat than anything else. And that may be working.
One real indicator of that is the endorsement today by the one general daily newspaper left in King County, the Seattle Times, for Hutchinson. It concludes: "But this election is about change. King County government must change the way it operates. The days of big-ticket projects and budgets are finished. The time is perfect for a political outsider to shake things up."
Veteran readers of Times endorsements will find missing the paper's usual reliance on experience and depth of knowledge as key bases for endorsement; good reason, since this case those assets aren't there. And the history she does have should have had enough red flags to warn them off - if she wins, they may have a lot of 'splaining to do in the next few years. (Take another look at that August post, and project the personality in the job of King County executive. You can see the train wreck coming.)
Comment from Horse's Ass ran this way: "I actually thought the Seattle Times wouldn’t endorse Susan Hutchison because whatever the ideological affinity, even they couldn’t bring themselves to endorse a candidate who is so spectacularly unprepared and unqualified to serve in such an important office. I was wrong. I often speak of the Times ed board as a single entity, but I know this decision wasn’t unanimous, so if those ed board members who opposed Hutchison’s endorsement retain at least a shred of self-respect, they will make public who voted for whom, or whether the decision ultimately came mandated from union-busting publisher Frank Blethen himself. But institutionally, they should be ashamed of themselves."
It may be another indicator, though, of the direction this race is going. It's all about definition, and so far Hutchinson has done a fine job of keeping it fuzzy. Constantine has only a little time left to sharpen the focus.