Donald Trump’s stunning revolution mostly skipped Washington. If anything, it helped elect a few more Democrats.
Donald Trump’s tangerine revolution stunned the nation. But unlike seismic elections past, Trump’s win had surprising little effect on Washington state’s election.
From governor on down, the expected winners won. Polls around here actually turned out to be right. There were no Trump-like, insurgent, burn-down-the-establishment conservatives carried to victory in Washington. This was not what pundits call a “wave election.”
The closest thing to a Trumper on the statewide ballot was evangelical Republican Marty McClendon, who ran for lieutenant governor. He lost by 11 points. There were no shocking surprises on the initiatives either.
The lack of a Trump-style shocker in blue Washington might be because he got just 38 percent of the vote — the weakest Republican showing since Bob Dole in 1996. That’s despite the enthusiastic cheerleading from state GOP party chair Susan Hutchison.
That’s not to say Trump’s candidacy had no effect, especially as voters waded deep into the book-length voter guide. Read the election results closely and you can make an argument that Trump helped make 2016 a decent year for Democrats in the Legislature.
The clearest “Trump effect” victim was Republican state Sen. Steve Liztow. His center-left 41st Legislative District on Mercer Island is full of the type of moderate Republican and independent voters who shunned Trump. Like other GOP moderates — including gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant and U.S. Senate candidate Chris Vance — Litzow disavowed Trump’s “racist, misogynist and fascist comments.”
No luck. Political consultant Ben Anderstone told me after the August primary that Trump’s brand “could not be more toxic” for the Puget Sound region’s suburban districts, because it encouraged traditional Republicans to stay home.
That theory has some evidence: Litzow lost by 10 points to a political newcomer: Democrat Lisa Wellman.
There were other casualties. Whether it was the Trump effect or Hillary Clinton’s energized base, two moderate Republican women in a swing Federal Way district are losing. Rep. Teri Hickel, an abortion-rights supporter and Chamber of Commerce moderate, was seen as a future star in the GOP. She is losing to a newcomer, and her seatmate, Linda Kochmar, lost badly.
Of course, it’s tough to sift out the exact weight of the Trump effect from the noise — more analysis will come with more data. There were also buckets of money sloshing around in these races, with spending by unions, Realtors, charter-school supporters and even Big Oil and Big Tobacco. Those races became a sort of Rorschach test through which big money donors saw their favorite puppy.
An astonishing $3 million was spent on the Litzow-Wellman race, and each of the Federal Way races drew $1 million-plus. That’s more than 10 percent of the total $40 million-plus spent on more than 100 legislative races. All that spending was for a part-time job that pays little above the salary of a beginning teacher.
One curious addendum to the potential Trump effect: It might also cause a historic shift in the other direction for a legislative seat on the Washington coast. Voters in the sprawling 19th Legislative District (Westport to Long Beach to Chehalis) have sent Democrats to Olympia continuously for generations, making it the rare rural Democratic stronghold in Washington. Only one Republican has won there since the end of World War II.
But GOP strategists targeted it this year in part because of Trump’s mobilized, rural, white uprising. In Tuesday’s results, the Republican candidate for a House seat, Jim Walsh, trailed the Democrat by 320 votes — less than a percentage point.
Depending on the outcome there and elsewhere, Democrats could pick up at least two seats in the state House. The GOP’s control of the state Senate appears to be down to a single vote, weakening its negotiating position with Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who easily won re-election.
That will make a big difference when the 2017 Legislature considers a massive shift in education financing. Litzow’s loss erodes what was once a functional group of moderate suburban King County Republicans who helped the GOP take the Senate three years ago. The three senators helped steer the GOP away from contentious fights on social issues. Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond, died last month, leaving just Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn.
Trump’s election is a stunning new episode in what has felt like his political reality TV show. Washington will still be watching the show through a blue-tinted lens.