If you are wondering why Democrats held on so well in Washington while across the nation they did not do well at all, the basic answer appears to be that they voted here. Democrats in Washington, despite the dire predictions for them nationally, mailed in their ballots. A Portland pollster makes that case, as well as the one contending that Washington is getting bluer.
Some of the information is included in a story about the county certifying the Nov. 2 election.
Moore Information of Portland, Ore. sent out an analysis (posted below) suggesting that Dino Rossi, Republican challenger for the U.S. Senate here, did better among Republicans than any other Senate candidate in the country. He also won the vote of independents by big numbers. He lost, according to Moore, because incumbent U.S. Sen. Patty Murray did even better among Democrats, and there are more Democrats than there used to be and they didn’t get too depressed to vote here.
Of course, if you read our story from Nov. 1, this may not surprise you at all. The last two paragraphs said this:
Turnout was markedly higher in 1998 and 2006. Carl Olson, Kitsap County Democratic Party chairman, said his party’s get-out-the-vote effort is tracking as well as it did in 2006, when turnout was 68.2 percent.
“My personal sense tells me there may be some surprises,” he said, meaning Democrats may do better than expected. Whether the party’s tracking of those who are solid or lean Democrat means they voted Democrat again, he said, he doesn’t know.
While Democrats lost ground in Washington, what their voters did by voting was prevent a party disaster. They maintained control of both chambers in the state. Locally every Democrat incumbent had a closer race, but they all won.
My hunch is this also explains why late votes, those counted after those from election night, did not break Republican as they have in past elections. Democratic margins, in fact, grew larger.
Moore’s analysis, co-written with Hans Kaiser, also with Moore Information, follows:
If one looks at the results of the November 2nd U.S. Senate election in Washington it appears, on the surface, as if Dino Rossi’s campaign was just another Republican effort that came up short in an otherwise strong GOP year. But lumping candidates together and evaluating their campaigns simply on whether they won or lost misses important demographic factors that played a key role in Rossi’s race and in senate races around the country. And it ignores significant differences between Washington State and the rest of the country in these races.
Anyone who has worked in Washington State knows there are many more Democratic voters than Republicans, so a GOP candidate needs to win a significant portion of the Independent vote to win a statewide race. Appealing to this group of voters and maintaining support among the party base is no easy feat. In 2010 Dino Rossi was able to do this better than almost all GOP senate candidates across the country, and yet he still lost. Why?
Well, one very large reason is that in 2010 the Washington electorate did not display a Republican tilt in their turnout like much of the rest of the country. In fact, the partisan makeup of Washington voters who cast a ballot this year continued to show an upward tick in the state’s Democratic partisan advantage. When Rossi lost to Christine Gregoire in 2004 Democrats held a four-point advantage in partisan identification among those who voted. In the huge Democratic year of 2008 they held a ten-point advantage in party identification. This year that spread increased to 12 points for Democrats. Rossi won more of the Independent and Republican vote than he did in his two previous statewide races, but the goalposts keep getting farther and farther away.
Let’s look at the exit polls. National exit polls showed Republicans winning Independent voters by 18 points (56% to 38%), a 180 degree shift from 2006 when Democrats won Independents by 18 points (57% to 39%) and gained control of the House and Senate. However, in both 2006 and 2010 the partisan vote among Democrats and Republicans was basically the same. Independents made the difference in these two elections and winning by 18 points among this group translated into a huge advantage for House and Senate candidates across the country, whether it was Democrats in 2006 or Republicans in 2010.
This year Dino Rossi matched the national GOP vote among Independents, beating Patty Murray among these voters 59% to 41%. Remarkably, Rossi did better among Independents than any other losing Republican senate candidate in the country and only two winning candidates* did better than Rossi among this group. So Rossi must have alienated Republicans, right? Nope.
Dino Rossi did better among Republicans than any other U.S. Senate campaign in the country for which exit poll data is available. He won 96% of the Republican vote. No other Republican U.S. Senate candidate in a competitive race did as well among the base vote. No one. Rossi appealed to both Independents and Republicans and brought a coalition together that in most states would have ensured a very solid victory.
But Washington behaved differently than the country as a whole this year and the Democrat partisans in the state voted as strongly for Patty Murray as Republicans did for Dino Rossi. No other Democrat in a competitive race in America did as well with their base voters as Murray did with hers. And, in Washington, as previously mentioned, her supporters showed up to vote. The Democrat partisan advantage in Washington was the highest we have seen, even better than the past two election cycles when Democrats were extremely motivated. In the 2006 and 2008 cycles, Washington Democrats had a ten-point edge in party identification over Republicans and yet this year, the year of supposed Democratic disaffection, it was even larger than that.
Going back to the recount year of 2004 when Rossi lost to Christine Gregoire by 129 votes, Democrats held only a 4% edge in party identification. In 2010 Rossi improved his numbers with both Republicans and Independents over both his 2004 and 2008 Gubernatorial races. Had Washington’s party identification in 2010 been even remotely similar to 2004, Rossi would have been elected to the U.S. Senate. But it wasn’t and he didn’t.
Two factors in 2010 created a hurdle simply too high for Rossi to overcome, despite his stellar performance with Republicans and Independents. Democrats remained universally loyal to Patty Murray and they made sure they mailed in their ballots. In fact, King County turnout exceeded the statewide average, further enhancing Murray’s partisan advantage. For that the Murray campaign deserves a great deal of credit. That kind of support and that kind of turnout in a very bad year for Democrats does not happen by chance.
Of course, the bottom line (as any Democrat will happily tell you) is that Rossi lost. But his performance in this race would have guaranteed him a U.S. Senate seat in almost any other state in the country. He faced a Washington electorate that was extremely polarized in 2010 with little if any crossover voting. And in a state where Democrats outnumbered Republicans by such a significant margin, even an exceptional candidate with a first rate campaign could not overcome that kind of math.
* In races for which exit polling data is available.