5 takeaways from Washington primary vote


OLYMPIA — Washington voters provided some clear answers this year about who they want as candidates for the November election.

With ballots still coming in Wednesday, the fall slates for governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general and each congressional seat were already set, with winners advancing by comfortable margins. Only a few questions lingered: Who will be the second candidate, along with James Watkins, in the race for state auditor? Which two hopefuls will vie to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers? And will Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn take enough votes to avoid a November competitor?

Some of the takeaways from Tuesday’s vote:

VOTERS NOT ENGAGED

Because the state had an open race for governor and three open congressional seats, Secretary of State Sam Reed predicted recently that turnout in the primary would be above average — at about 46 percent. Now it looks like turnout will strain to break 40 percent. Are voters apathetic this year? Is the early August primary date suppressing voters who might be on vacation? Were the Olympics a distraction? Those are questions the secretary of state’s office will likely assess in the coming months. Washington was forced to move its primary from September to the summer in order to provide enough time to send out ballots to military voters for the fall election. Reed’s office wonders whether Washington should now move its primary back further — maybe to June, when more people will still be home.

MONEY MATTERS

After trailing in early polls, congressional candidate Suzan DelBene filled her campaign account with her own money and then flooded televisions with ads. The outsized spending allowed DelBene to push her numbers well ahead of her Democratic opponents in the 1st District and into the fall election. Similarly, businessman Bill Driscoll in the state’s 6th District invested about $500,000 of his own money to help him best other Republicans in the race and move on to the November election. Self-funded candidates have a history of performing poorly in November elections, however, so neither is a lock for a fall victory.

GOVERNOR’S RACE IS FOR REAL

While it’s impossible to make sweeping conclusions based on primary votes, the numbers confirm that the race between Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee will be competitive. They also suggest that McKenna has some work to do. Inslee and another Democrat have combined to take 50.8 percent of the vote, compared with 46.6 percent for McKenna and other Republicans. McKenna is getting less of the vote percentage than Republican Dino Rossi did in the 2008 primary, and McKenna also got only 35 percent of the vote in King County — the state’s largest county and the place McKenna calls home.

COMEBACK CANDIDATES

The 1st District congressional race will feature two candidates — DelBene and John Koster — who lost their races in 2010. And in the state’s lieutenant governor race, Republican Bill Finkbeiner is moving on to the November election after taking several years off from politics. Other bounce-backs didn’t work so well: Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels didn’t make it out of the primary, nor did three-time congressional candidate Darcy Burner. And state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, who was ousted from the court in 2010 after controversial comments about how the courts handle minorities, was struggling to emerge from the primary in his bid to regain a court seat.

CANTWELL IS CRUISING

With 56 percent of the vote, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is performing better than any of the state executive-office candidates. Her Republican opponent for the fall, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, took only 30 percent of the vote. It’s a big gap for Baumgartner to overcome, especially since he only has $180,000 to spend on the race right now, compared with Cantwell’s $2.2 million.