This editorial was published by the News Tribune of Tacoma.
It’s always dicey to extrapolate too much from a primary election, much more so in the wildly unpredictable year of 2020, convulsed by plague, social upheaval and ongoing waves of economic dislocation.
One almost expects the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse to come riding out at some point before the November general election, shouting from his saddle: “Don’t forget about me.”
But there were several remarkable developments in this week’s early Washington primary results. Let’s examine three of them:
l Inslee stronger than ever — That Gov. Jay Inslee will be the Democratic nominee for governor en route to a likely third term may be the most anticlimactic news of the night.
In an absurd field of 36 candidates, which Auburn Republican Sen. Phil Fortunato described as a “clown race,” Inslee has been propelled by a tailwind of inevitability for months. (Fortunato, by the way, is in sixth place with barely 4 percent.)
What’s notable is that the incumbent governor performed better than he did four and eight years ago. Inslee was sitting pretty with more than 51 percent of the count as of Wednesday evening, compared to 49 percent in 2016 and 47 percent in 2012.
The trend played out in politically purple Pierce County as well; Inslee still hasn’t broken the 50 percent barrier here — he never has — but at just under 46 percent, he fared better than in his previous two primaries.
Certainly Inslee’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including shutting down the economy and requiring masks in public, has divided Washingtonians. The grindingly slow processing of unemployment benefits by an office run by his political appointee has angered people.
Yet Inslee has emerged as one of the more trusted U.S. governors during this national crisis. No attempt to create diversions — the many failed legal actions against his emergency powers, or the silly haircut scandal manufactured by Tim Eyman — is going to change that.
One thing that might: If the economy continues its nosedive. When Main Street is shuttered, small businesses tank and good jobs are scarce, much of the blame will stick to governors who locked down society.
Also, Inslee rates poorly on his response to street protests and calls for police reform, according to a recent Crosscut/Elway poll. If the unrest continues, this could be a vulnerability for him.
l Strickland appeal goes beyond Tacoma — Marilyn Strickland jumped out as the clear frontrunner to replace Rep. Denny Heck in Congressional District 10. She seems well on her way to become the first former Tacoma mayor to go to the other Washington since Harry Cain in 1946, and the first Tacoma woman ever to serve on Capitol Hill.
Strickland enjoyed 22 percent support as of Wednesday’s count, 7 percentage points above state Rep. Beth Doglio of Olympia. It’s too close to call whether Doglio or former state Rep. Christine Reeves of Federal Way will advance from the 19-person field. Either way, voters will have an all-Democrat runoff.
A win for Strickland would be good for Tacoma, but many voters to the south apparently believe it would be good for them, too. In Thurston County, Strickland trailed Doglio by just 3 percentage points as of Wednesday.
That’s a great sign for Strickland, as her political orbit was presumably tethered to Tacoma and points north. (She’s the former CEO of the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce.)
One caveat: The progressive base was carved into many slices in the primary. Will it unite behind either Doglio or Reeves and give the centrist Strickland a scare in the general?
l Beacon of hope for Pierce County GOP — When he was elected Pierce County executive in 2016, Bruce Dammeier became the first Republican to hold the office this century. Now the Puyallup politician is in strong position for a second term.
We hoped that Larry Seaquist, the veteran Democratic state lawmaker from Gig Harbor, would make it a competitive race. But Wednesday’s updated results show Dammeier with a commanding 56 to 44 percent lead in a head-to-head matchup against Seaquist.
That’s a stark contrast to another local Republican incumbent (and Dammeier ally) who may be in trouble. State Sen. Steve O’Ban of Tacoma was deadlocked with Democratic newcomer T’Wina Nobles.
Perhaps more telling is the staggering cash gap between the county executive candidates: Dammeier has raised more than $375,000 to fuel his slick, painstakingly moderate campaign — over 10 times what his fellow Navy vet has raised.
A wild card for Dammeier, O’Ban and other local Republicans: How will their fortunes be affected this fall when they share a ballot with President Donald Trump?
That’s not just a wild card, it’s a Joker — one that they have no choice but to deal with.