Aug 06 2014

The general difference, maybe

Published by at 8:49 am under Washington,Washington column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Washington

The primary – which it still sort of is, despite its top-two functionality – in Washington often is regarded as a massive straw poll, a clear indicator of where things are headed in the November general election.

Often it provides good markers, especially when the results are strongly decisive. The incumbent members of Congress, for example, all came away with big leads in the primary. (That includes Suzan DelBene in the 1st, who many observers insisted was facing a close general election. If she is, it would mark a huge reversal from the primary.)

Closer primary results are another matter. Two of them jump out for interest come November.

One is in the 4th congressional district, where veteran incumbent Republican Doc Hastings is retiring. The issue isn’t which party will control the seat; in the strongly Republican 4th, that seems a given. But a large number of Republicans were competing for the seat, and the outcome was unclear.

This week, the field was led by Clint Didier, a former pro football player now aligned with Tea Party and NRA interests, who has run for office twice before unsuccessfully, and Dan Newhouse, a former state legislator from the area who could be considered a more centrist conservative, who led the state’s Department of Agriculture in former Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire’s administration.

The contrast between the two is almost as clear as if their party labels were different. Didier will draw from the Tea Party and cultural right (his loud support for keeping the Redskins football team name helped ensure that), and Newhouse will draw from the left, probably including most Democratic voters. Didier led in the crowded field, but Newhouse seems to have most of the early money for the general, because he has the opportunity to grab backing from more blocks of voters.

It will be a clear-cut contest. Much more clear cut than the primary was.

So, likely, will be the contest in legislative district 35, where long-time Senator Tim Sheldon appears to have come in second place.

Sheldon is in a key spot in the Washington Senate. Nominally a Democrat, he often has sided with Senate Republicans and at the beginning of this current term joined with fellow nominal Democrat Rodney Tom, and the chamber’s Republicans, to form a majority coalition dominated by Republicans, which among other things blocked large parts of new Governor Jay Inslee’s agenda (and the Democratic House’s). The contest for who will control the Senate in the next term remains closely fought.

The results not being entirely final yet, there’s a possibility in that in this close contest – he was running against Democrat Irene Bowling and Republican Travis Couture – his vote might slip to third place, and he could be shut out in the general election. For the moment, however, the situation looks like Bowling is in first place, Sheldon in second and Couture in third.

If so, a surface reading at least of the situation would suggest Sheldon survives in November. He would seem likely to pick up most of Couture’s vote, which would give him a clear advantage. But how many Sheldon Democratic voters have stuck with him in general elections past because he was faced with a Republican? Might some of Sheldon’s traditional Democrats peel off under those conditions? And if the contest is close, what might result from the difference in voting population (and it will be different) between the primary and general?

There’s enough material here to generate a bunch of speculations. The coming weeks will give Washingtonians ample time to explore them.

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