The biggest surprise of the primary election this past week is that there weren’t a lot of big surprises.
While the public might be pretty upset at government in general, they are still fairly comfortable with most of their own incumbents. Maybe it’s other voters’ elected officials that they’re mad at, because despite the perception of widespread voter discontent, most incumbents came through the primary in reasonably good shape. There were some incumbents who found themselves in tight races, but most of those were expected.
The other message political insiders were watching for was the impact of the Tea Party movement and conservatives in general. Here again, there are a couple races where they might have had an impact, but it wasn’t widespread.
The headliner was Republican Dino Rossi’s challenge to three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. As expected, Murray held a comfortable, but not insurmountable lead. But the candidate everyone was watching was Tea Party advocate and former professional football player turned farmer, Clint Didier. But Didier turned out to have minimal impact as he was sitting at about 12 percent, with 7 percent of those coming from King County. Moderate Republicans were fearful that the Tea Party movement could harm their prospects to gain control of the state Legislature or the U.S. Senate seat in the fall, since they will need to court independents who tend to be moderates.
If there are too many conservatives on the ballot, independents might lean Democratic. Conservatives will now, if somewhat reluctantly, support Rossi. The only incumbent Congressman to be in trouble is Rick Larson up in Snohomish County. He is opposed by a conservative, so that is a race to follow.
The biggest surprise was in the 47th District in the Auburn-Kent area, where Republican Joe Fain held a large lead over Democratic State Sen. Claudia Kauffman. This race was expected to be close but no one, including Fain’s mother, was predicting a 10-point lead for the challenger. Fain just needed to be within six points and he far surpassed that. But the race isn’t over yet. Democrats will work hard to save Kauffman.
The other legislative race that was much closer then pre-primary estimates was in the 30th District. The state Senate seat held by Democrat Tracey Eide was considered fairly safe. But Republican Tony Moore’s strong showing puts the seat in play. Eide leads but only by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin — and ensures that big money will start rolling in on both sides. Eide has more historical resources to call upon than Moore, who is a freshman.
One of the legislative races where the more conservative candidate won was in the House of Representatives in the 47th District. Second-time candidate Mark Hargrove defeated fellow Republican Nancy Wyatt for the right to take on embattled incumbent Democrat Geoff Simpson. Simpson is thought to be highly vulnerable. Independents will decide this race.
But the race many in South King County were watching was the race to be the first elected strong mayor in Federal Way’s history. As expected, State Rep. Skip Priest held a comfortable lead over Federal Way City Councilman Jim Ferrell. Priest was at approximately 35 percent and Ferrell was just below 28 percent. Priest has been widely believed to be the front-runner since he joined the race. The bigger question seemed to be, could the other candidates keep Priest below 40 percent, and would the second-place finisher be inside a 10-point margin and make this a competitive race? Both turned out to be true. Based on the numbers, this historical race should be well worth watching.
The surprise in this race was the numbers Mayor Linda Kochmar didn’t have. She didn’t have enough money. Many felt that Kochmar seemed to be picking up momentum the last few weeks, but as the critical last 10 days hit, the other candidates were able to send out mailers and put ads in the newspaper. Kochmar couldn’t. As a result, she dropped from competing for the second spot to the third spot.
Priest will still be favored to win. But whether this election turns into a horse race, or is merely entertaining, will depend on who the followers of Kochmar and fourth-place finisher Mike Park decide to support. Conventional wisdom suggests that most of Park’s people will go to Priest, and that Kochmar’s supporters could split. But November will also bring a whole new set of voters to the polls who are among the 63 percent who have been paying more attention to summer than to the election. They will hold the key to all these races.