Be wary when you see news reports about a vote that pits “liberals” against “moderates” (or “conservatives” against “moderates” for that matter). The U.S. House vote for Democratic leader, won by Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing speaker, ought to be evidence of that.

The vote has been widely billed as one pitting the more liberal Pelosi against the more conservative Heath Shuler of North Carolina. Run through the available information about who supported who, and you find some basis for that. But:

Two of the key Democratic votes seeking a delay on the leadership vote, to December 8 – a move viewed as helping Shuler – were Oregon’s Peter DeFazio and David Wu, both considered part of the liberal wing. But neither terribly close to Pelosi.

DeFazio’s crossways with Pelosi has been clear for some time, and the Astorian reports today “that Wu was one of those voting for Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, who mounted a campaign against her.”

Ideology can define one agenda in politics. But it is only one.

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Not to keep stomping on this, over and over, but the recent set of posts at interstates (h/t to Betsy Russell on this) rally cries out for mention.

This space has talked about the diminished Democratic turnout in Idaho toward the top of the ticket, with the unstated point that much the same seems to have happened downticket as well. Well, it did. Interstices took a look at results on the legislative district level in the Boise area, and voter turnout there:

Every district in Boise had fewer total votes in 2010 than in 2006. More remarkable is across Boise the decrease in total votes from 2006 to 2010 came mostly from the Democratic column. Republican votes were largely unchanged, with the exception of the increase in the District 18 Senate race that changed parties.

Cumulatively the Republican Senate candidates amassed a relatively unimpressive 870 more votes in 2010 than 2006. That’s only an average increase of 175 votes per district, but enough to flip to seats in District 18.

The real story is the total vote for Democratic candidates dropped by more than 8,300, an average loss of 1,650 Democratic votes per district. So much for the “wave election.” The asymmetry in numbers shows this was not a case of swing voters going the other way, or a significant increase in voter turnout like happened in 1994 when compared to 1990.

What happened appears to best be described as a systemic failure on the part of the Democratic Party to put on a campaign at the top of the ticket that would help drive voter turnout at the lower races such as for State Legislature.

Among other things; but the point seems well made.

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What do Bob Tiernan, Jim Hansen and Luke Esser have in common?

For one, they’re all leaders of northwest state political parties – the Oregon Republicans, the Idaho Democrats and the Washington Republicans – whose parties did not especially west in this month’s elections. (Hansen is executive director, the other two chairs.)

For two, they’re all under fire. And one of them, Jim Hansen, has just been fired. Not the word formally used, but when Hansen writes on Facebook, “The chair of the Idaho Democratic Party asked me to step down as Executive Director on Dec. 31,” yeah, that’s what happened.

That Idaho chair, Keith Roark, said the move (after a decision by the party’s executive committee) was not a scapegoating and adds, correctly, that “Jim Hansen is in no way to blame for the results of this past election. The IDP has little or nothing to do or say about the individual campaigns of our candidates and Jim is no more responsible for a losing campaign than he is for a winning campaign.” All true. But a dismissal two weeks after the losses Idaho Democrats sustained, with no other reason given: What other conclusion should people draw?

Tiernan and Esser have taken some heat, certainly in the blogs, since the election too. While Democrats suffered across the board losses in Idaho, Republicans made some gains in Washington and Oregon, but well below those in many other states.

There’s some tendency in all three of these parties to point to specific personnel – often as not candidates or staff people of one sort or another – as the change that must be made. It’s rarely that simple; the three people in these tough spots all are fairly talented. And it’s hard to see who, moving into any of these ED spots (maybe Tiernan and Esser, who is close to the probably 2012 GOP gubernatorial nominee, stay put) would be the guy to turn things around. Look deeper, guys.

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You really can’t blame Larry Grant.

He was the 2006 Democratic nominee in the Idaho 1st congressional district; ran a strong race against a flawed Republican nominee, Bill Sali, and wound up narrowly losing. The next year, a batch of comments began surfacing around Democratic circles that, well, Grant lost because he was a bad candidate. With the implication that all the Democrats needed to win next time was a better one. Was there some basis for arguing that Grant was an imperfect candidate? Probably. But then, try finding a perfect candidate, anywhere.

Grant started a second run at the seat in 2008 but dropped out after businessman Walt Minnick entered the race. In some respects, Minnick was a less presentable candidate than Grant had been (a matter of style – a little more diffident in manner), but ran about as strong a campaign overall. This time Sali, who had a knack for irritating people (especially fellow Republicans), had a little more exposure to the district, and he lost a little support, and in 2008 there was a somewhat stronger than usual Democratic get-out-the-vote effort. Minnick very narrowly won.

Any fair evaluation of the candidates involved in these races has to start with facts like these. But history gets rewritten a lot, and Minnick’s good 2008 campaign eventually got some grade inflation. Some of that may have helped his fundraising; in 2008 he ran what must be the most expensive campaign Idaho has ever seen for the U.S. House, involving probably twice as much money raised as anyone else ever has. But there were limited to its effectiveness: A couple of weeks ago, Minnick lost decisively.

From a comment by Grant on the Spokesman-Review Huckleberries blog:

So let me get it straight: when I lost, I was a bad candidate, when Walt loses, there was nothing anybody could do, even though he was an incumbent with a conservative voting record with a $2 million dollar war chest who loses to an underfunded R who doesn’t have the support of half his party or groups like IACI.

The race was Walt’s to lose. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve known Walt for 30 years and know him to be a good man. I place the blame where it belongs, directly on his campaign staff and advisors.

He delivered a comment here too, to a post on election vote totals in the 1st:

Of course more interesting to me, was the 2006 vs. 2010 Congressional numbers. Total votes were 247,422 in 2010 vs 231,974 in 2006, about 15,000 more total votes. However, Walt actually got fewer votes than I did in 2006 with his 2010 vote count at 102,130 and mine in 2006 at 103,935, while Labrador got 126,231 to Sali’s 115,843. So, Labrador only got about 10,000 more votes on a 15,000 increase in total votes. The rest went to 3rd party candidates, with Dave Olson getting 7,508 more votes in 2010 than he did in 2006. Pretty clear evidence that a significant number of Dems either stayed home or shifted to Olson.

Was the race “Walt’s to lose”? That’s a little hard to conclude definitively, since the margins in the 2010 contest were so large. But his point in comparing the 2006 and 2010 vote totals is pretty solid. Did a bunch of Democrats simply decline to vote for Minnick? The closer you look, the more it looks that way. Next question – one for review among Idaho Democrats – why was that?

Hint: It wasn’t that Minnick turned from a shining campaigning star in one cycle to a campaigning dunce in the next. We won’t rewrite history here to suggest that’s what happened. But watch for it; some Idaho Democrats will be riding that explanation again soon enough.

ADDITIONAL There’s another thoughtful piece, running though additional numbers, on 43rd State Blues – it’s also worth a read. Its conclusion: “Most Democrats would rather go down swinging, standing up for who we are, whether right or left, but as proud Democrats, with pragmatic and successful solutions, not self contradicting platitudes. Moreover Democrats should offer independents in this state a real choice other than Republican and Republican lite. In contrast, joining Republicans in running against Democrats will just assure a significant portion of the rank and file will stay home. losing elections, and leaving the party apparatus worse off than if Democrats fielded a Brittany spaniel.”

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Washington House districts/Washington Secretary of State

As we start to look at reapportionment, which will be a recurring topic here in the year ahead, a piece today in Crosscut by Dick Morrill, a geographer emeritus from the University of Washington, was an immediate grabber. It started in a logical spot: Working through some of the necessary changes that would occur if Washington gets, as it may, a tenth congressional district for this decade.

What he didn’t follow through on was, what might the political import be? Herewith …

You start an analysis like this at the edges, where population is thinnest and where the choices to add or subtract territory and people are the fewest. In Washington that means the east, the 5th district centered around Spokane. Morrill figures that because of population gains, the 5th will have to shed territory, most logically Okanogan and maybe Adams counties, both very strongly Republican areas. Since Spokane itself is politically split (the city itself is mostly Democratic now), and there are a couple of smaller Democratic centers there, the effect would be to make the 5th a little more competitive. That may not matter in the shorter run, since Cathy McMorris-Rodgers seems to have a very solid lock here, and would even with these kinds of changes. But in the case of an open seat or a close race, in a different climate, it could matter. Still, overall a continuing Republican district.

As would be for the near term the neighboring fourth, which has centered around the Yakima-Tri-Cities area. Its configuration may change a little, adding more territory to the north and maybe losing (Morrill estimates) about half of growing Yakima County; presumably, that slice would have to be meshed with the population base to the southwest in Clark County. (The fourth, like the fifth, would continue as a strongly Republican district, probably the strongest Republican in the state, an easy continued hold in future as in the recent past for Republican Doc Hastings.) There are other ways to make this work, really creative ways of stringing counties, but Morrill is probably right if you’re interested in creating realistically compact districts.

So in that case, you’d combine part of Yakima with Klickitat County, southwest to Skamania county and into Clark, and probably somewhat beyond. Clark is a close-split county, but the combination of it with the Republican base at Yakima County would result in a clear Republican tilt in this newly-configured district. New Republican Representative Jaime Herrera presumably would have little trouble holding this one.

From there, Morrill’s speculation – which matches with what’s been in the air elsewhere – is that the pieces of a new, tenth, district probably would center around the Olympia area, around Thurston County – which has been joined with Clark County to its south to form the current third. In this projection, those two areas break apart. The new Olympia-based district would include mostly Democratic territory (Thurston itself is strongly Democratic, though countered by the much smaller Lewis and moderated by Mason), and probably would be a Democratic district.

To the north, in district 2 (running from the Everett area to the Canadian border), Morrill figures a large chunk of Snohomish County will have to be expelled, probably to District 1 (though there are options). Depending on which precincts are shifted, this may make District 2 even more closely competitive. Or not.

That’s five districts. And what of the other five?

And here’s where we start to reach the end of geographic necessity and start to enter the question of sheer political calculation. A whole lot of Washington’s population lies in that area west of the Cascades, from Olympia to Everett. Most of it is Democratic, except for some large suburban pieces, mainly in eastern King and Pierce counties and in scattered parts of Kitsap. How do you choose to arrange them? It may be possible to develop as many as two genuinely competitive districts out of this material; it could also be possible to slice the pie so as to make them all Democratic-tilted.

The odds favor creation of at least one district with enough of the Republican suburban areas to make it competitive or slightly Republican. Hence the formula: In a 10-district Washington, the most likely outcome from here looks like six generally Democratic districts, three generally Republican, and one up for grabs with probably some Republican edge.

But it could be difference. The reapportionment commission meetings could be notably interesting next year.

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Not strictly Northwest – the article is about last week’s election from a national perspective – but the points made in a Washington Post piece a week ago (which I just got around to reading) seem so spot on in this region as well as elsewhere that they called out for some more attention. So, herewith.

Especially this, at article’s end:

The percentage-point margin by which Americans who blamed Wall Street for the nation’s economic problems favored Republicans over Democrats in the national exit poll of Tuesday’s voters. The poll asked voters whether they blamed Wall Street, George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Those who blamed one president or the other, not surprisingly, voted overwhelmingly for the opposite party, but those who blamed Wall Street (a plurality of respondents) gave 56 percent of their vote to Republican candidates and 42 percent to the Democrats.

If Democrats want to know why they lost, they should ponder this number and the 9.5 percent unemployment rate. The president’s decision to defer financial reform until 18 months after the bank bailouts, and his decisions not to press for a bigger and more visible stimulus or to keep his focus on job creation were fateful mistakes that cost his party dearly.

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Richard Sanders

Only scattered Washington state writers about politics are taking note of this one, but it’s of some significance: A Washington state Supreme Court justice, Richard Sanders.

Sanders, who got to the court in 1995 after defeating an incumbent appointed by the liberal Governor Mike Lowry, has been a mostly consistent libertarian on the court. He could find common cause with the left on some social issues, but allied with the right on less visible but more frequent and often more crucial regulatory and economic matters.

Sanders had seemed to be headed toward another win, but his opponent this year, Charlie Wiggins, drew fairly close on election day, gained ground steadily since, now has taken the lead and seems likely to prevail. That has happened in large part because Wiggins, whose support came mostly from Democratic quarters, has done so well in King County, where many of the later votes have been counted.

This may be the first successful challenge to a state supreme court justice from the left in the Northwest in a very long time.

The best piece of detailed writing on this so far may be a longish analysis in the Slog. It is worth a read.

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For Republicans in Washington state, this was their best election since at least 2004, and probably a few cycles before that. They made progress: They picked up a U.S. House seat (they had not flipped a single Democratic House seat in the state since 1994, when they flipped six), and seats in both the Senate and House, albeit falling short of control of either. But with visions of 1994 dancing about, they’d hope for a lot more.

And some other voter indicators, notably the passage of a couple of anti-tax measures, gave hope that there would be more.

So, useful reading today in a post in Red County, by Byron Myrick, mulling over why the red tide last week did – as some Democratic politicians said – crash and recede against the left coast.

There’s no one single or simple answer for that, and Myrick isn’t offering a lot here. But several of the points he does make have a common theme.

He has a specific and logical point in one strategic area: The sending of lots of resources to two Republican congressional candidates, incumbent Dave Reichert and newcomer Jaime Herrera, both of whom wound up winning with substantial leads, while other options were less-funded. The notable case was in the 2nd district, where Democrat Rick Larsen evidently has been re-elected but by only a tiny margin; more money to Republican John Koster might have made the difference there. (Myrick’s suggestion that another race, in the 1st district, might similarly have been turned seems less likely.)

His other major complaint concerns Republican state Chair Luke Esser, where he focuses not on what was said before the election but after it:

On Friday morning, Esser broke the calm and spoke with radio talk show host Bryan Suits on KVI 570 AM. His explanation to Suits for why Washington had not followed the national trends for Republican gains: Washington State’s economy was just not quite as bad as the rest of the country. According to Esser, a serious but comparatively mild recession in the Northwest was to blame for dashed Republican hopes. Esser’s rationalization was as hopeless, demoralizing and misplaced as if Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had blamed the team’s monumental loss this past Sunday on better-than-average weather.

The same day, Esser repeated the analysis to David Boze on KTTH 770 AM, confirming amazingly low expectations for the Republican message and implying that GOP wins in Washington can only come against Democrats who have been handicapped by desperately poor economic conditions.

Here Myrick gets at something of real possible significance: The underlying idea that Washington Republicans are simply doomed unless a perfect storm comes along to rescue them – a storm that would have to be even more perfect than the one in 2010, which might not happen for a long time. Myrick: “Having predicted failure – as Esser implies by defining such narrow conditions for GOP victories – it is not only permissible but rational to avoid risks, play defense, and celebrate holding ground as if one were gaining it.”

Keep coming up short over and over, and it does make sense to rethink what you’re doing. (That applies as well to Idaho Democrats and Oregon Republicans.) But the concern Myrick seems to be getting at (whether or not Esser is properly guilty of it, an assessment we’ll not make here) is also legitimate: Presume you’re a loser, and you probably will be one; spend your time in risk-avoidance, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re not putting a lot of numbers up on the board.

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In 2008, in Idaho’s 1st U.S. House district, Republican Bill Sali lost his office to Democrat Walt Minnick. In 2010, Minnick in turn lost it to Republican Raul Labrador. Question: Which of these Republicans, Sali or Labrador, would you suppose won about 45,000 more votes than the other in these elections?

You can guess where this is going: Sali, in losing, took 171,687 votes, while Labrador, winning this year – in a strong win by a strong margin – took 126,231 votes: Far fewer.

Look closely at the vote totals in the two elections and you find what sure looks like evidence in Idaho of that vaunted enthusiasm gap: A relatively larger number of Democrats not voting in 2010 who had in 2008. The closer you look, the more it looks that way.

For example. While the general election vote for the Republican nominee dropped from 2008 to 2010 by 26.5%, Minnick’s own vote fell by 41.9% (from about 176,000 to about 102,000) – same guy, running from a position of incumbency on a core platform not all that different from what he’d campaigned on the first time. A whole lot of people who voted for him earlier, took a pass this time.

Of course, that was true to some extent across the board: Idahoans cast fewer votes in 2010 than 2008, since turnout always declines in non-presidential election years. Overall in Idaho, it dropped by 32.8%. The Republican drop in the 1st district was less than that (26.5%), and Minnick’s was more (41.9%).

This also seems to be true in the governor’s race, which provides in some ways a cleaner comparison since in Idaho all governor’s races are off-presidential. The actual vote received by Democratic nominee Keith Allred this year (148,300) was down by 25.4% from that received four years ago by Democrat Jerry Brady (198,845). But Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter, who won, saw his vote total moderately rise from 237,437 to 266,992 – up by 12.4%, even as all sorts of anecdotal evidence had seemed to show his popularity in decline. The 2010 Republican “tide” might account for some of Otter’s boost, but should it account for such a massive drop among Democratic-leaning voters?

You can find lots of other examples among other candidates, notably among Democrats.

From election to election, of course, some people may change their minds, or their sides. But that happens less often than a decision to simply sit this one out. Look at the numbers again, and see what conclusions you draw.

We’ll revisit this later.

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Take a look through the CNN exit polling data posted on their web site – there’s plenty to see for Northwest analysis. Not much for Idaho; none of the races there were exit-polled by the organization. But Washington Senate, and Oregon Senate and governor, were.

The distinctions between the genders on the two Oregon races are notable. In both cases men voted much more strongly for the Republican candidates than did women. Democrat John Kitzhaber lost men 36%-60% to Republican Chris Dudley, while winning women 62%-36% – a decisive difference for both genders. Both genders went for incumbent Democrat Ron Wyden in the Senate race (which overall he won more sweepingly), but while he won the female vote 64%-34%, he won men by just 49% to 47% over Republican Jim Huffman. (Might Dudley’s sports background have affected the numbers just a little?)

CNN did not break down the various ethnic sub-groups in Oregon, but it did note that Dudley got more of the “white” vote than Kitzhaber did.

Given that, the breakdown in Washington was not unexpected: Women voted in majority (56%) for Democrat Patty Murray, men (53%) for Republican Dino Rossi.

One of the interesting bits: CNN asked whether anyone in the household belonged to a labor union, and then how the person voted. Among those who said no one in the house was a member, the Senate candidates split their votes evenly. Among those who reported “yes” (this amounted to a fifth of the respondents) Murray prevailed, as you might expect – but just 53% to 47%.

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weekly Digest

The elections last week – recounted in detail to the legislative and judicial level for Washington, Oregon and Idaho – were dominant elements of Northwest developments in the new Digests. The results moved Washington and Oregon closer to the center, and Idaho more Republican than it already was.

Elections aside, the week was busy on plenty of other developments, in area from the economy (some continuing bad news, but not entirely) to education and arrival of still more federal programs that got little press attention.

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 time of many phone calls (no point leaving unfortunate text messages lying around) as the members of the Oregon House, apparently split 30-30 for the next cycle, trying to figure out how to organize themselves. (The Senate appears to have narrowly averted a tie, with Democrats barely controlling 16-14.)

The most logical approach, and the one you might think would win out, is to mirror what the Oregon Senate did after the 2002 election when it was tied 15-15. In that case, leadership was sort of split between two veteran legislators who each were respected in the opposition’s caucus as well as their own, Democrat Peter Courtney and Republican Len Hannon, who were chosen senate president and president pro tem, respectively. The two were good friends, and the leadership of the chamber was divided between the parties. From all external appearances at least, it seemed to work pretty well. Of course, getting it to work that way depends on finding just the right combination of people for the key jobs.

When the Washington House was evenly split a few years back, Republicans and Democrats each elected a speaker and other top leaders who would take turns in the chair. It was an ungainly system with many flaws, though it ultimately did get the job done.

There are other possibilities too. But the one that should make people most queasy is one being talking up at present among some Oregon House members: persuading one member of one of the caucuses (names on both sides are under discussion, and apparently at least one person has come forward with the prospect) to switch sides, and maybe be given a key spot in return – maybe the speakership.

Doesn’t sound like a good way to build trust; more of less the opposite of the model the Senate worked out a few years back. But we should be hearing more about this next week.

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