Sunday, November 20, 2016

Four things to think about the 2016 Thurston County commission races (2014 all over again, sort of)

Over the past couple of years, I've been rolling over how an independent candidate with conservative values was elected in a usually safe Democratic county. Bud Blake's win in 2014 over Karen Valenzuela took a lot of folks by surprise, so a double repeat of that victory for the other two commission seats by Gary Edwards and John Hutchings was supposed to be preventable.

I was thinking that a larger electorate in a presidential year and more awareness of the nuances of an independent campaign would help seal a Democratic win. Anyway, that didn't happen. Let's look at how.

1. Just like 2014, it was a matter of beating the typical Republican

In 2014, Blake was able to beat a typical Republican in every precinct, from the most conservative to the most liberal. In most of these districts, even the very most liberal, there was a layer of voters that would not for a Republican in a down ballot race (attorney general, lieutenant governor) but would vote for an independent against a  Democrat in the county commission race.


2. Unlike 2014, core Olympia liberals did not abandon the ballot 

Something I noticed later was that if you looked at 2014 results in terms of turnout, the closer you got to Budd Inlet, the more likely you were to not fill out your ballot when it came to the county commission race. While these lost voters would not turned the campaign to Valenzuela then, it made it practically certain she would lose. Countywide, dependable liberal neighborhoods in Olympia need to turn out for Democrats to win.

While there was a geographically based drop off in voting, it seemed to have happened not in the home base of the more liberal candidates, but in the in-between area of the two camps. In the map of above, higher turnout for the county commission races are darker. So, in my reading, the lighter placemarks are mostly in either politically stratified neighborhoods around south county (Republicans and conservatives) and Budd Inlet (liberals and Democrats). Both camps did a good job getting their base to vote. And, the suburban tweeners stayed home. Well, we all stayed home. It's vote by mail.

3. BONUS: Kelsey Hulse did not improve her mark from the primary

If you take just the precincts that were involved in the Hulse Edwards primary back in August (commissioner primaries are just in the district they represent), she did just a percentage worse. Which isn't bad. Standing pat in the more conservative east district (Yelm to the eastern portions of Lacey) isn't a bad strategy for a liberal candidate.

And, of course, since I have place information for these precincts, here's a map of where she did better.

The darker the pins, the better Hulse did compared to her primary finish.

Looks like a lot of nothing to me. Not that there wasn't some moving around, there certainly were some places that she did better in (and worse in) November to August. But, I don't think it makes geographic sense to me. I'm mostly sharing it because I want to see if anyone else sees a pattern I don't.

4. SUPER BONUS: Hulse did better than Cooper in Olympia

From the brand spanking new Green Pages (which makes it a super special bonus), Steve Salmi writes:
One could argue that this occurred because Edwards was the tougher opponent — but only outside the liberal Democratic stronghold of Olympia. 
By the same token, one might suggest that Hulse’s campaign materials did a better job than Cooper’s of energizing liberals. This, in turn, may have partially been because Hulse raised roughly $74,000, a good $12,000 more than Cooper, according to the Public Disclosure Commission
One might also wonder whether a robocall that attacked Cooper had an impact. But again the question arises: Why did he outpoll Hulse everywhere else except for Olympia — particularly if the robocalls targeted south county residents? 
Perhaps other factors may be at play. For example, did Hulse more aggressively doorbell in Olympia because, unlike Cooper, she needed to introduce herself to a core voter base?


Anonymous said...

Interesting that Hulse got more votes within the city limits of Olympia than Cooper did. The robocall must have gone after Cooper's base, which is located primarily in Olympia.

South county residents are tired of Wolfe/Romero's bad policies, and they viewed Cooper and Hulse as being more of the same. The Ds need to get better candidates (no more drug dealers, women abusers and crazies) and start making policies that reflect the county (rather than extremist views).

Emmett said...

Okay, so I heard this sort of thing earlier today too, that South County folks turned out in greater numbers this year to reject Cooper/Hulse as stand-ins for the current commission. But, the way you say it leaves so ambiguity.

And, to be honest, the top chart seems to contradict your point because there are voters in every part of the county that voted in greater numbers of the independents, which seems to imply voter confusion.

So, how do you see it?

1) *More* south county voters this time around, as in great turnout?

2) Lower percentage of south county voters voting for a Democrat?

3) Some other take?

Anonymous said...

Hum. Good question. If I had to guess (and I do since there's no exit poll), I'd say both #1 and #2.

The major parties at all levels (national, state, local) are changing, leaving many long-time Ds and Rs adrift. This is nothing new, though. The D and R parties have been shrinking for years while the Independents have been steadily growing. Local party die-hards are surprised by Independents/nonpartisans winning the county commission races, when they shouldn't be surprised at all. They should have expected this.

At the Thurston County level, the Ind./nonpartisan wave was aided by the local Ds' extreme policies and poor offerings. TCD is having an identity crisis as union supporters battle Greens/Progressives for party control, and NONE of them are listening to the average Thurston County voter. They're too wrapped up in their own personal agendas (and party games) to care about what the people of Thurston County want. That disregard created a backlash, which Glen Morgan has voiced and captured. Morgan should send the TCD a thank-you basket.

Politics is a retail business, and retail principles apply.

If you stop listening to the people/customers, the people/customers will stop listening to you.
If you put up crappy candidates election after election, people will switch to another brand.
If you push policies that harm the people, they'll replace you with something less harmful.

Why did the Independents/nonpartisans win? Their product was better. Hutchison was a no-name with zero campaigning experience, and he won! That's how bad the TCD product is.

Jim Cooper should have gotten many more Olympia votes than Hulse did, and for two reasons. (1) Cooper's been on the Olympia council for several years. The Olympia voters should know him by now, whereas they don't know Hulse. (2) Cooper's opponent was a no-name, while Hulse took on the 800-pound gorilla known as Gary Edwards. The Olympia results indicate that the robocall went after Cooper's base and effectively blew it up.

S. Salmi said...

I'd agree that north-county Democrats can get a little insular -- and that has hurt them over the years with south county voters. However, what Anonymous doesn't acknowledge is that voters made a mistake if they wanted a shift to the "moderate middle." Both Edwards and Hutchings are staunchly conservative, as Emmett has illustrated with a number of postings.

In other words, the new commission is significantly more conservative than Thurston County's electorate. This may be a purple county, but it trends blue more than red. I mean that both in partisan terms as well as ideological tilt on major policy issues such as growth management.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If the new county commission follows its bliss and tries to turn Thurston County into "Lewis County by the Sound," we may see some real fireworks in the next election cycle. Of course, defeating incumbents is difficult to do, so the Democrats will need to come up with more experienced candidates. And it would help if The Olympian would invest decent reporting resources into covering the county commission.

I don’t expect the latter. But I do expect the new commissioners to struggle with the tension between what they really want to do and what will maximize their chances of reelection.