Donald Trump’s toxic brand is corroding state Republicans’ chances of taking control of the Legislature.
Bill Bryant backpedaled into the “never Trump” camp last week, belatedly and messily pitching his tent next to Puget Sound Republicans running for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the Legislature.
Yet even as the GOP’s candidate for governor was moonwalking away from Trump, Washington State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison tweeted, adamantly, “Let me be perfectly clear: WSRP supports @RealDonaldTrump!”
Someone should tell Hutchison that her state Trumper-in-chief shtick is eroding the state party’s odds for its biggest potential prize this weird election year — control of the state Legislature.
I wrote in April about Washington Republicans’ strategy for retaking the state House: moderate candidates running in swing Puget Sound districts, especially in King County. Washington’s history of ballot-splitting, I thought, could have voters shun Trump but vote for Republicans down the ticket.
But the “Trump effect” is now clear.
Ben Anderstone, a political consultant, crunched the numbers from the state’s May presidential primary. Despite Trump’s huge — YUUUGE! — margin statewide, Republican turnout was down nearly 6 percent from 2008 in King County.
The depressed GOP turnout extended to east King County areas. The Republicans’ appeal to white, college-educated voters — especially women — was key to the GOP effectively retaking the state Senate in 2013. Those are also the voting blocs that are shunning Trump in national polls.
Anderstone works for left-leaning candidates, but I’ve found his data analysis to be excellent and spin-resistant. His conclusion: “Trump could not be more toxic for the Republican brand in this area,” he said.
The bad news for Republicans extended to the August primary in the King County suburbs, where the GOP has held seats in the Legislature recently, even as voters have drifted left. A few data points:
In the primary four years ago, state Sen. Steve Litzow, a moderate Republican representing Mercer Island, won by 12 points. This primary, with the depressed Republican electorate, Litzow lost to a first-time Democratic candidate (the third candidate, a Libertarian took 4 percent). Litzow seems likely to be in a total dogfight in the November election.
In the district surrounding Federal Way, a solid, moderate Republican incumbent, state Rep. Teri Hickel, is in a virtual tie with her challenger. Her seatmate, state Rep. Linda Kochmar, took nearly 60 percent of the vote in the 2014 primary. This year, she is losing to a first-time Democratic candidate.
In the eastern King County District 5 centered in Issaquah, Republicans have held a seat in the state House continuously since 1989. But Paul Graves, who campaigned hard and raised the most money in a three-way race, eked out 46 percent of the vote while Democrats took the bulk of votes.
I’ve heard arguments why each one of those races wound up the way they did. I’ve sat in on more than 130 endorsement interviews with The Seattle Times editorial board since May. I know better than many people that incumbents sometimes deserve to be dumped — D or R.
But Republican strategists have seen the data and are suddenly less bullish than they were just a few months ago. GOP consultant Alex Hays tempered his optimistic prediction that his party could retake the state House for the first time since 2001.
“Republicans are likely to win a tie in the House,” Hays said. “This could have been an outright majority but for the Trump effect.”
A new Elway Poll highlights the toxicity of Trump in Washington. One-third of voters said they would vote against a candidate who supports Trump. It’s a fair guess that those “never Trump” voters are mostly in the swing Puget Sound districts where control of the Legislature rests.
There’s one other data point on the Trump effect: Republicans with Hispanic or foreign-sounding surnames — Valderama, Figueroa, Yin and Monroy — did terribly in the August primary despite running some strong campaigns. Coincidence?
The outcome in November is anyone’s guess. I stopped predicting because my predictions would make me a fool. Maybe Washingtonians will separate the orange man at the top of the ticket from Republicans down the ballot. Who knows?
But the state Republican Party’s Twitter enthusiasm is doing no favors for the folks they’re supposed to be helping.