Tuesday’s election was waged over local issues like taxes and traffic. But this year, voters made clear it was also about you-know-who.
Donald Trump’s name did not appear anywhere on Tuesday’s local election ballot. But Trumpism did, in one form or another. And it isn’t going over so well with you voters.
Across the country, voters were opting for Democrats in a gut negative reaction to Trump and his first year as president.
It was mostly the same around Puget Sound. Candidates who expressed Trumpist thoughts on immigration or took harder-edged conservative stances were in trouble with local voters Tuesday. Ditto the most high-profile campaign in this off-year municipal election that featured a candidate with the misfortune to have an ‘R’ after her name.
In that marquee race, for the Eastside’s 45th District senate seat, Democrat Manka Dhingra was plastering Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund by double digits. That’s a devastating result for Republicans, who had spent record sums trying to keep that seat.
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The Republican loss flips Senate control to the Democrats. That in turn means the entire West Coast is now a “blue wall,” with Democrats controlling the legislatures and governors’ offices in Washington, Oregon and California. Previously that Eastside senate seat had been held by Republicans for most of its existence.
“Annihilated in the suburbs, this is what Trumpism has wrought,” said former Republican Party chairman and King County Councilmember Chris Vance. “The Republican Party is dying in urban and suburban America.”
Englund tried to distance herself from Trump, insisting she hadn’t voted for him. But Trump isn’t easy to get away from.
“A President at 35 percent is poison,” tweeted Rick Wilson, a national GOP political strategist. “His behavior is unspinnably disastrous for R candidates outside of deep red districts.”
Reflecting this polarization, Republicans were still walloping Democrats in our deep-red districts in Eastern Washington.
But back on this side of the mountains, the city of Mukilteo, in Snohomish County, held a mini-referendum on Trump in the person of Peter Zieve. One of the top Trump donors in the country last year, Zieve, who also channeled Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, unexpectedly ran for council this year in the town of just 21,000.
He was getting absolutely trounced Tuesday — despite self-financing his campaign with $50,000. Zieve was losing by more than 30 percentage points.
Mukilteo resident Paul Kramer, who organized a “Mukilteo For All” countercampaign, said it was good to see voters turning away, if for a moment, from the obsessive focus on divisiveness in politics.
And down in Burien, a slate of four City Council candidates calling itself “Burien Proud, Burien First” was organized around opposing sanctuary-city status for immigrants. Those races were too close to call after Tuesday’s returns. But even the one council incumbent in the slate, Debi Wagner, was leading her race by just 2 percentage points against a challenger vying to be the first Latino elected in Burien.
There are limits to how much the national political mood plays out in these local races, most of which are nonpartisan and hinge on issues like growth and traffic.
But in Virginia, where there was exit polling done Tuesday, half of voters said Trump was a major factor in their votes, even in down-ballot races. Most tellingly, by a 2-to-1 ratio they said they were sending a message of resistance to Trump, not of support.
We didn’t have exit polling around here, so we don’t know why local voters weighed in as they did. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenny Durkan’s huge victory in the Seattle mayoral race wasn’t owed in part to how the former U.S. attorney is seen as more aggressively combative to Trumpism and all it represents, as opposed to the ethereal Cary Moon.
For good or ill, mostly ill in my view, Trump is the most dominant political figure of my lifetime. So dominant that right now his shadow falls across even town-council races in tiny places like Mukilteo.
“Anti-Trump landslide,” Vance said, summing up this year’s election. “Just a preview of next year.”
We’ll see about that last part. Once again, Trump won’t be on the ballot next year either. But we all know, already, who and what that entire election is going to be about.