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weekly Digest

The Washington primary election week before last continues to r4everberate, but so does the impact of the tough economy. All three Northwest states reported some downer economic news during the week, cut however but some bright indications of new business announcing opening shop.

More went on around the region as well. Gubernatorial debates were a hot topic of discussion in Idaho (where the first of the general election season was held in Idaho Falls) and Oregon (where negotiations over which debates will be held, or participated in, continued).

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests – for Idaho, Washington and Oregon – moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what’s happening. And we’re taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That’s $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 – in printed book form – and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you’d like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here’s a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you’d like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

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A good site for general data – demographic, economic and so on – around the Northwest: Co-backed by the Community Action Partnership and the University of Idaho, the site Indicators Northwest is well worth a look.

It describes itself as “a one-stop source of up-to-date information on states, counties, reservations, and tribes. Whether you work for a non-profit group, private firm or public agency, this site is for you. Here, you’ll find text summaries that highlight major trends in each indicator. You’ll also find information displayed with graphs and maps. Users who want to analyze the indicators further can download data in Excel spreadsheets.”

Check it out.

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Northwest

The gas budget for our vehicles travelling roughly from Portland to Boise is about $60, each way. Craig Henderson, originally of Tacoma, plans to drive about twice as far – from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, on Interstate 5 – for $42. Or less.

It has to do with the way his car is designed, to get more than 100 miles of travel per gallon.

As the Northwest (Oregon most notably) gets more into alternative forms of powering motor vehicles, this would be a story worth reading.

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Northwest

It’s worth noting once again, just because so much anti-federal wind comes from Idaho, especially in this campaign season.

One of the biggest and best single pieces of economic development in Idaho in the last few years has been a massive wind power project that stands to take advantage of the often fierce winds blowing across the Snake River plains. How substantial an economic development this is shows up in a post by the state Department of Commerce:

GE and its partners, including Boise-based Exergy Development Group, have already begun building the Idaho Wind Partners project – 11 wind farms along the Oregon Trail from Hagerman to Burley.

The $500 million project will become Idaho’s biggest wind project and one of the largest in the entire Pacific Northwest. Once completed, the 11 farms will be able to generate 183 megawatts, enough to power 39,700 Idaho homes.

The project will create 175 construction jobs, 25 permanent jobs and, using federal Energy Department estimates, will support 2,200 full-time jobs a year nationwide. Eight of those jobs are with Precision Communications, which installed 43 miles of fiber optic cable that connects the wind turbines by computer, so they can be remotely shut on and off and monitored.

Jim Woodhead, president of PreCom, said he’s glad Idaho is catching up with its neighbors – Washington, Oregon and Montana – which all have more wind generation than Idaho.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who better than anyone else exemplifies the attitude that Idaho is just full of rugged individualists who get ‘er done as long as the feds stay off their backs, commented: “Otter said the development of the wind industry is the newest chapter in Idaho’s long history of creating its own power using renewable sources …”

Just below that, though, the department post goes on to say this: “The project was made possible by the 2005 federal energy bill, which included a grant to developers who could begin construction by the end of the year. “This project wouldn’t exist save for the federal grant,” [GE Energy Financial Services President and CEO Alex] Urquhart said. He said more wind projects like this will not be possible unless federal clean energy legislation is passed.”

Those nasty feds, seeding Idaho business again …

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A question.

This comes out of news today that Conoco-Phillips, which has sought and gotten permits to run mega-sized trucks down the narrow and winding Highway 12 between Lewiston and Missoula, is appealing a decision by 2nd District Judge John Bradbury which blocks those trips, at least for now.

The appeal, of course, goes to the Idaho Supreme Court, for which Bradbury was earlier this year was a candidate, losing to one of the incumbents. That’s one interesting aspect of this; there seems to be some presumption that Bradbury may be overturned. We’ll see.

Our assumption has been that most people in the area have been opposed to the traffic of these massive trucks on a road that seems so unsuitable for them. (Travel via, say, Interstate 90 to the north might present some issues but on its face seem a lot more logical.) But is that so?

One commenter on the Lewiston Tribune story about this offered: “This is a waste of a lot of peoples time and efforts for such a small minority of opposers.” The formal (as if legal filing) number of “opposers” is of course small. But what’s the sense of how people overall in the area view this?

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This has a feel of significance to it:

Two months ago, in an effort to boost the candidacy of its 1st U.S. House district nominee Raul Labrador, the Idaho Republican Party said it was hiring two staffers that would be assigned directly to help in that race. (Here’s the release about one of them.) It was an implicit acknowledgement that the race was not easy – incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick had several advantages including a big money lead – but also an expression that the party would make a special effort to get behind the candidate.

In reports today, the Associated Press says that the two staffers won’t be so strictly assigned; their work instead will be much more based around general party activities.

One reason, which the party indicates, may be legal. There are legal limitations on how money not contributed directly to a congressional campaign can be used for it. Of course, that was true in June too.

But you get the sense that the resources could have been found, if the party were determined enough to get the assistance to Labrador. Was there a shift in priorities?

Might be that too much shouldn’t be made of this. But keep watch, and see what else in the coming weeks fit into a pattern.

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Idaho

Most people who track the news at all see a good deal of news about their own state, but little about others. That allows a particular sort of dishonesty to spread: Making all sorts of claims that one’s state is (depending on the agenda of the speaker) doing a whole lot better or worse than other states, in taxes, education, economy, whatever.

There are real differences among the states, of course. But many of the arguments that pick up the most currency tend to be facile and bogus. Washington state has no income tax? Wow! But before drawing too many conclusions, you have to factor in those high sales taxes (higher than Idaho’s, and obviously much higher than sales tax-less Oregon), not to mention the state’s substantial business and occupation tax. Washington isn’t horribly taxed, but looking at only one piece of the picture is highly misleading.

Oregonian columnist Steve Duin today took this on effectively, most specifically the argument that the state is unfriendly to business because of its tax structure. The argument essentially is a crock. Duin’s sharp, efficient takedown is a must-read. It may be Oregon-oriented, but the points in it are useful for Washingtonians and Idahoans as well.

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Just how much we should make of the results in Washington’s primary election last week – beyond the determination of who will be on the ballot in November – won’t be clear until after the general election voting is done: Only then will we be able to do some conclusive matchups. But if you operate under the assumption that the primary results offer at least a general foreshadowing of what’s to come, we can at least draw some rough conclusions.

We can reasonably conclude that the U.S. Senate race is competitive, though incumbent Democrat Patty Murray has a discernible edge (for now anyway). We can realistically say that there are two competitive U.S. House races, in the 2nd and 3rd districts, with the latter being the tougher call.

And after reviewing results in the 123 state legislative races on the ballot, we can fairly say this: Republicans are not likely to win either chamber at the statehouse (though that could happen), but they are highly likely to pick up enough seats to trim the Democratic edge to only a bare hold.

Let’s unpack this, starting with the Senate.

Of the 49 Senate seats, 31 are held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans – team red would need to gain seven seats to take control. Of the 49 seats, 24 are not up for election this year – 12 each held by Republicans and Democrats, which will mean Republicans will have no structural advantage in 2012. This year, they do: Of the 25 seats up, Democrats now hold 19 and Republicans six. That defense challenge is heavy on the Democratic side; it would be a tough year for maintenance under the best of circumstances.

Of those 25 seats, candidates are unopposed in five of them: Three Democrats and two Republicans. And in two other districts, both candidates headed to November are Republicans. That means in total, Republicans now are guaranteed 16 seats and Democrats 15.

Democrats did a little better among seats competitive between the party. Nine scored well enough (over 50% and substantially ahead of the opposition) to be considered likely winners in November, while six Republicans scored comparably.

There are three other odd-case districts. In 38, incumbent Jean Berkey came in a narrow third against two other candidates, a Republican and a Democrat. But because the two Democrats on the ballot pulled 67.6% of the primary vote overall, the seat has to be considered safe Democratic. In District 32, Maralyn Chase got 47.7% of the vote, while a Republican got 39.9% and another Democrat got 12.4%; again, when you add the party totals, that looks like a Democratic win, though it could enter the gray area.

And then there’s District 44, where Democratic incumbent Steve Hobbs and his main Republican challenger, Dave Schmidt, nearly tied (Hobbs very slightly edged Schmidt), in a race also involving two other candidates. This one has to be called a true tossup.

Add these together, and the Washington Senate overall is beginning to look like 38 Democrats, 34 Republicans, and one too close to call – based on primary results. So you could say the odds favor continued Democratic control, but with a narrow margin. And the possibility of Republican control if their candidates run the table.

The House has a similar overall look.

The margin in the House (where all seats are up) now is 61 Democrats, 37 Republicans; team red needs a dozen-seat pickup to tie. The parties are unopposed (this combines one-candidate elections with one party only on the ballot line) for 24 seats – 18 Republicans and six Democrats, so start with those. (Democrats gave away a hell of an advantage by failing to significantly challenge more Republicans, even in districts where their odds weren’t good.) Then look at the seats where one candidate had a strong primary edge of at least 52% of the vote: Here Democrats did better, leading in 31 seats to the Republicans’ 15. Then add in the districts where total party vote (even if not for one candidate specifically) hit the mid-50s or higher: six for the Democrats, four for the Republicans.

That brings us to 41 Democratic seats, and 37 Republican – a close margin. You’ll notice that Republicans seem solid in the same number of seats they have now: Democrats are having to play serious defence on many of the 20 remaining seats.

A lot of these are suburban seats Democrats have won from long-time Republican control in the last few election cycles. Both House seats look seriously contestable in districts 1, 17, 28, 35 and 42, along with one of the seats in 6 (Spokane area), 18, 30, 32, 44, 45 and 47. Nearly all are now held by Democrats.

A sweep of those could give Republicans House control. That doesn’t seem too likely, at least yet.

But Washington’s legislature, even without shift of formal control, is likely to look a good deal different next year then it does now.

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digest
weekly Digest

The results of the Washington primary election on Tuesday – or rather, ending on Tuesday – surprised new one particularly. The state’s top-rank race, the Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Patty Murray and Republican Dino Rossi, materialized about as pundits had figured, and the Tea Party-backed candidates did not get far. Elsewhere, prospective close U.S. House races were set up in the 2nd and 3rd districts, and Democrats were hard-pressed in a number of legislative contests.

More went on around the region as well. Gubernatorial debates were a hot topic of discussion in Idaho (where the first of the general election season was held in Idaho Falls) and Oregon (where negotiations over which debates will be held, or participated in, continued). Economic indicators remained mixed at best.

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests – for Idaho, Washington and Oregon – moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what’s happening. And we’re taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That’s $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 – in printed book form – and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you’d like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here’s a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you’d like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

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A Crosscut piece definitely worth the read: About the shift of ownership of one of the key churches, University Baptist Church near the University of Washington – a landmark among liberal churches in the area.

Now the Mars Hill Church, an Evangelical church known for its conservative stances and its criticism of the region’s dominant culture, has bought the place.

Takeaway quote from the Crosscut piece (which goes into some detail, with nuances beyond but largely backing the quote): “Once, in the not too distant past, Protestant Christianity was the religious expression of the prevailing culture and its values. Increasingly, it seems that Christianity, at least in its currently thriving expressions like Mars Hill, plays a more oppositional role in relation to the prevailing culture and its values.”

Seattle: As a prevailing matter, you’re either Evangelical or secular? Historically, that hasn’t been a realistic formulation. But it may be getting that way.

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Not so much for the specifics noted – which seem incomplete and sometimes, to non-wonks, a little unclear – as for the basic approach, take a look at what the Oregon Democrats did with the economic proposal put forth by Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Dudley.

They took an original version of the file (PDFed originally, probably) and effectively used a red pen to editorially mark it up. (Writers who have worked with editors will immediately grasp the approach.) It makes for a visually arresting approach.

One comment here on one of Dudley’s 26 proposals, the one being part of number 3: “He will budget the way Oregon families and businesses budget, by determining how much money the state will have and then building a “Priorities First” budget within existing revenues.” First, that’s actually not so very different from what’s done now in times of revenue downturn. Second, it assumes something sacrosanct about the current revenue levels: What’s the argument for why they should not be higher or lower? But we’ll return to some of this in another day. The Democrats, as you might imagine, didn’t take quite that approach in their markup.

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Oregon

There are supposed to be four debates in the Idaho gubernatorial campaign upcoming, and if the first – in Idaho Falls, Thursday – is a reasonable guide, the next three ought to be entertaining at least. And something of a marker of the real differences between Republican Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Democratic candidate Keith Allred. Who “won” may depend on the world view you bring with you; what you got was a fair representation of both candidates.

(No full video of the event, backed by the Idaho Falls City Club, seems to be available. But Idahoans and others can listen for now at least to a stream uploaded by . . . someone, to an online storage site. Of that ogg vorbis stream doesn’t float your browser, there’s an mp3 available too.)

A generic gripe: Both tossed in so many references to the “founding fathers” that you began to wonder if either of them really understands that the year is 2010, not 1790. But then, this is an Idaho Falls audience.

Otter has traditionally gotten underrated as a debater, but over the years he has consistently shown some skill at it, and did again on Thursday. He sounded a little bombastic, often, and an angry tone seemed to seep in regularly; he only occasionally sounded like the happy warrior of yore. (He’s mostly having to defend now, not launch a crusade.)

But he slipped in some neat jabs at Allred, notably at the Democrat’s proposals to chop out some as-yet-unnamed sales tax exemption, which Otter routinely described as tax increases (which as a matter of practice is what they would be).

At one point in a rebuttal, Otter delivered a question to Allred, and Allred – stepping outside the debate rules – went ahead and answered it. To which Otter slipped in, “That doesn’t mean under the rules you get to reply” – drawing laughter.

But Allred got some laughter of his own (and showed off his own debate skilled) when he quickly answered, “It’s good to do this with a career politician who has learned all the tricks.”

Otter’s weakness in the debate (something he presumably could strengthen in those remaining) was in fashioning the case for what he has accomplished in his current term, and what he would want to accomplish in his next. The closest he seemed to come was in his closing statement, when he spoke of zero-based budgeting and fostering a culture among state managers to consider themselves the servants of the people of the state.

Allred’s strength was in laying out his firing case against Otter. (That’s a little unexpected, since he likes to focus on the mediative aspects of his candidacy, but essential when running against an incumbent.) He efficiently painted a picture of Otter as beholden to big money and special interests and cut off from most Idahoans, citing support for private prison and gas tax increases among the pieces of evidence. Tax exemptions, he said, tend to go to “the powerful and connected.” (Otter seemed to have little direct rebuttal to this general line of attack, other than a nice defence of his Capital for a Day program.)

Allred also more cleanly dispatched of some of his party’s tougher associated issues. Right to work repeal? Same-sex marriage? (Republicans, including Otter in the former case, have swiped at him on both.) Allred said he was against both, probably displeasing a lot of Democrats, but clearing the table. Otter’s main counterpart was his party’s support, at its Idaho Falls convention, of repeal of the 17th amendment – to in other ways take away from voters the choice of U.S. senators, and give it to the state legislatures. Otter tried saying that his focus is on the 10th amendment on state’s rights (and he sure did focus on it, probably referencing it more times than education, transportation or any other single subject), but he completely garbled any position on repeal of the 17th, other than to say what everyone knows, that it’s not going to happen.

One notable statement from Otter, in the contest of highway repair spending: “Deferred maintenance is the same thing as deficit spending.” It’s a fair and reasonable analysis. But a question suggests itself: Would Otter make the same argument for other state and local services, from education to parks to health care?

If Otter was a little blustery, Allred was calmer and cooler. But if he got to call Otter a “career politician,” Otter could and did hand the “lobbyist” label on Allred. And Otter’s characterization of Allred’s tax stances, arguing that Idaho’s income taxes are too high while calling for exemption repeals, did put him a little off-balance. And if Otter did not sound especially happy, he also did not come across as either unenthusiastic or tired.

Two pretty solid debaters. Watch and see how they hone this for the next time around.

REPUBLICAN TAKE The state Republican Party was quick to deliver its take on the debate.

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snohomish

When Jerry Brown, who is running for governor in California this year, ran for that office the first time in 1974, he spoke of “moving left and right at the same time.” Is Snohomish County taking that to heart 36 years on?

First, and most significantly, the 2nd congressional district – which runs north to the Canadian border but gets close to half of its votes from Snohomish County – showed signs of being competitive in November. It used to be highly competitive, and in the 90s even Republican-leaning, before starting to elect Democrat Rick Larsen, now seeking his sixth term. Larsen took a solid 62% in his last election, and 64% in each of the two before that. In his first two, he won closer, 50%-46%. In the first of those, he faced Republican John Koster, who is running – hard – this year.

In yesterday’s primary results, Larsen leads Koster but just barely, 42.8% to 40.9%. Slipping that far below 50%, against an opponent who’s running as close, is a clear danger sign. While none of the other Washington U.S. House incumbents showed signs of serious danger in the primary numbers, Larsen clearly will have to run seriously in the couple of months from here to there. His edge is not overwhelming.

Their strategists may notice something of interest in those primary results: The two candidates didn’t fare equally well everywhere. Of the five counties in the district, Larsen won five, three (King, Skagit and San Juan) strongly, two narrowly (Island and Whatcom). He narrowly lost one: Snohomish (43.2% to 41.5%).

Then there’s this.

The most central of the several legislative districts in Snohomish is the 38th, which includes Everett and various points north and south of it. What happened there on Tuesday is also notable.

The Senate seat there is held by Jean Berkey, an Everett Democrat who ran afoul of several unions and other interests for her centrist votes in the last couple of sessions. Unwilling to go along, they backed an insurgent candidate from the left, Nick Harper, who also collected a batch of support from assorted liberal organizations. While Tea Party insurgencies in Washington largely faded out, this run from the left worked: Harper took 35.3% of the vote to Berkey’s 33.6%, meaning that those two Democrats will go on to November (shutting out the Conservative candidate Rod Rieger).

There are indications, especially in some of the suburban districts that Democrats won initially in the last few cycles, that Republicans likely will gain some pushback this year. But the results from Tuesday also show a more complex picture than just that.

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Washington

Did the primary election results in Washington say a lot we didn’t already know about what to expect out of the November election?

Not a tremendous amount, although the results should give everyone some reason not to get comfortable.

In the Senate race, incumbent Democrat Patty Murray took 46% to Republican Dino Rossi‘s 34%. For Murray, her portion of the vote is less than she should have wanted; there’s a line of thought that anything under 50% for an incumbent in a generally open primary like this one is dangerous. Certainly the figure suggests some vulnerability. But Rossi’s task is formidable. While he will surely get a lot of the Republican vote that splintered off in other directions in this election, he’s also going to have to appeal powerfully to the independents. Rossi’s climb here is steeper than Murray’s, though both have some work to do.

In the U.S. House 3 race, which is open, Democrat Denny Heck led as expected with 31.5%, to Republican Jaime Herrera‘s 27.2%. If you add the votes from all the Democratic and all the Republican contenders together, though, you get 43% for the Democrats and 53% for the Republicans – which suggests an edge for Herrera. Balance that against financial and other structural advantages Heck has, and you get a highly competitive race. This one can truly go either way; a lot really will depend on how well each of these (highly polished and articulate) candidates, and their organizations, perform, not least in the area of November voter turnout.

One other factor should be considered: Most of the competition in these and other major races around Washington was on the Republican side, which may have helped inflate Republican turnout, compared to Democratic, a bit. How much? Hard to say.

Regional. Among the Republicans: Didier won just two counties, Benton and Franklin, doing well enough in the latter to give it to Murray in a Murray-Rossi faceoff. Which won’t happen in November. But check out the overall state map for the election and you’ll get a familiar-looking picture: Murray won a plurality or better in all counties west of the Cascades except Lewis, plus Spokane and Klickitat. Against a Republican unencumbered by splinter candidates, Murray likely cannot win as many. But then, she wouldn’t need so many to win. And she has an opportunity to pick up more votes in the Democratic precincts that didn’t turn out this time. Chances are good, for example, that she can improve on the 58% she got in King County today. (In 2008, Barack Obama got 70% there for president, and Democrat Chris Gregoire, running for governor against Rossi, took 63.9%.)

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Consider for a moment the subject of the media political frenzy – that supposedly powerful, big grassroots movement going by the name of the Tea Party.

To judge from Washington primary results, they don’t look so big and powerful tonight. They look, rather, like minor players – the establishment favorites carried the day. (Or at least have so far, but the results seem decisive enough that reversals in the week to come are highly unlikely.)

In the U.S. Senate race on the Republican side – not the “Republican primary” since this is a top-two, all comers considered election – the establishment, non-Tea candidate was Dino Rossi, the former state senator and twice a gubernatorial candidate. He was much better known, had much more organizational and financial support than his opponent, and his win Tuesday wasn’t a surprise to much of anyone.

But here’s the numbers (as of this evening): Rossi 33.9%, Tea Party (and Sarah Palin) favorite Clint Didier 11.95%, and Tea second-runner-up Paul Akers 2.5%. For all the splash Didier made, and he made a lot of splash, the votes weren’t there – not nearly. Voters taken as a whole didn’t seem to have a problem with Rossi the (conservative) establishment candidate, as such. So much for the tsunami insurgency which Rossi, to his strategic credit, seems to have recognize was overrated (though, yes, he did cater to it more in the last two to three weeks than he had before).

The other key race was for the one open U.S. House seat, in Washington’s 3rd district (southwest Washington, from Olympia to Vancouver to the coast). All three significant candidates ran as conservatives, but of different shades. State Representative Jaime Herrera, widely considered the front runner, was probably the most establishment of the group in overall approach. David Castillo, who also had some backing from highly visible party people but also had some Tea support, was more or less in the middle. David Hedrick, a newcomer, ran full steam on Tea concentrate (privatize Social Security, for example).

The result? Herrera outpolled the other two put together (27.2% to 12% for Castillo and 13.8% for Hedrick). The perils of being flanked on both sides may have weighed down Castillo. But the overall strength ran heavily to Herrera.

Not a good night for the hard-core insurgency. We’ve had the suspicion for more than a year that it has been overrated. And for the most part, it seems to be, except when actual voters weigh in.

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