Here are five closing thoughts on Tuesday’s election. Starting with the one to rule them all.

This past week, as votes poured into elections offices, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley was stumping on a bus tour out in Eastern Washington towns such as Ritzville, Davenport, Colville and Liberty Lake.

It made great campaign optics: The “new mom in town,” barnstorming through 46 burgs, no place too small. (Davenport, known for its dryland wheat fields, has just 1,700 people.)

But come election night her campaign may regret she didn’t focus more of her efforts, all this year, on pushing the Sisyphus rock of local Republican politics: King County.

It’s a chestnut that all the votes you need to win Washington state you can see from the top of the Space Needle. There’s long been a GOP corollary — you must get close to 40% in liberal King, or it hardly matters how red the rest of the state votes.

The last Republican to win a U.S. Senate campaign here, Slade Gorton, earned 48% of the vote in King. That was in 1994. The next time he ran, in 2000, he got 39% — and that ended his career.



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Since then, the best any GOP Senate candidate has done in King was Dino Rossi’s 35% in 2010, the big tea party year. Rossi lives in the county and represented it in the state Legislature. Yet still the rock rolled back down the hill, crushing him.

The county’s only gotten bigger and bluer since, further confounding the GOP calculus. Mobilize the rest of the state and risk alienating King? Or try to woo the blue giant?

Some Seattle-bashing is standard for any GOP campaign, but Smiley has gone more smackdown than most. She’s openly dismissed Seattle institutions like the Seahawks and Starbucks as “woke corporations.” Republicans have piled on: I was watching the World Series and an independent MAGA ad came on that mocked Murray for backing such progressive evils as … transgender rights. What GOP genius thinks right-wing social-issue tropes like that are going to land a punch here?

Of course soothing King County with conciliatory tones hasn’t worked in the past either. So maybe going to war with it will?

Who knows this year, but in the primary on Aug. 2, Smiley got just 19% of the King County vote. All the Republican candidates combined scored only 24%. Maybe there’s been a seismic change since. But it’s a mighty steep climb, rolling one ginormous rock, to push that up close to the magic 40%.

Incumbent Sen. Patty Murray meanwhile has been tennis-shoeing all over King County — holding events the past few weeks in Federal Way, Beacon Hill, Redmond, Lake City, Burien, Seattle’s Central District, the UW. When she made a surprise visit to Seattle’s Chinatown International District, the NW Asian Weekly dryly noted it was the senator’s first stop there in five years.


The reason: It’s her firewall.

Smiley’s bus tour headed out from Maple Valley. I’d rather go tour the vistas and vineyards of places like Walla Walla this time of year, too. But best turn that bus around quick — metaphorically at least — back to where the votes live.

Here’s a trend that hasn’t gotten much local attention: Hispanic voters may be ditching the Democrats.

The latest WA Poll by The Seattle Times showed that Smiley now leads Murray among Hispanic voters by 15 points, 53% to 38%. An earlier Emerson poll also found Smiley up among the group by 47% to 39%.

That any people of color may be defecting to the GOP is panic-inducing for Democrats. Hispanic voters make up only about 6% to 8% of the Washington electorate, so it may not weigh heavily on who wins here. But it’s yet another sign of a shake-up going on in politics, where the working class seems to be rapidly shifting allegiances.

Why? An article in The Atlantic this week titled “Why Democrats are Losing Hispanic Voters” says there’s a sense Democrats don’t really care about working-stiff economic issues like inflation. It also could be cultural — a feeling the party veered too far left on issues such as policing, or is too fixated on abortion. Murray has always had very strong working-class appeal, so this is one to watch.

Coupled with that trend, though, is its twin: The incredible exodus of college-educated voters away from Republicans.


The WA Poll shows that Murray is now up by 26 points among those with a college degree, while Smiley leads by 37 points among voters who stopped after high school. That’s an unheard-of 63-point gap.

It means this “diploma divide” is now a bigger deal than any other division in politics, including the gender gap, the urban-rural gap or the race gap.

Washington is one of the most educated states, so this isn’t necessarily bad for Democrats around here. It explains, though, why it feels as if we’re living in parallel realities, with two separate elections going on, each with distinct issues and languages.

It also explains why Democrats are so fixated on King County: That’s where the college degrees live.

As the parties try to navigate all this upheaval, there are two local elections I’m watching as sort of proxies for where they’re each headed.

The future of the Republican Party is playing out in the 39th Legislative District, in Snohomish and Skagit counties, where two Republicans made the final ballot for a state House seat.


One path voters could take is Trump-lover and election denier Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls. He likes to tote his gun to political rallies and go to MyPillow Guy conferences. He infamously said “prepare for war” after the 2020 election.

On the other is Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low, who is more of an NPR listener’s idea of a Republican: politely conservative, consensus-seeking, says he’ll “work amicably with Democrats.”

“You could argue that he’s not a real Republican,” fired back Sutherland, who is always firing back at something. To MAGA or not to MAGA, that is the GOP question.

The tilt of the Democratic Party is also on the ballot in the somewhat overlooked race for King County prosecutor.

It’s a nonpartisan job, but both candidates are Democrats. One, Leesa Manion, has been the chief of staff of the prosecutor’s office for the past 15 years. She’s campaigning to try to meld the party’s progressive and traditional wings, pushing reforms of past criminal justice practices as well as diversion programs.

The other, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, is more in the tough-on-crime camp. The Democrats have been trying to excommunicate him from the party for this (and because he used to be a Republican.)


“I am a pro-choice, pro-labor, pro-environment Democrat. I also happen to believe that someone who commits a crime should be held accountable,” Ferrell brashly said last summer.

Is there room for such cross-party ideology in our tribalized world? In either party?

All these questions are about to be tested in an election that feels more up in the air than any in decades.

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