Voting in Washington State’s all mail-in primary election ends Tuesday, closing the book on the political pre-season and firing the starting gun for the race to the Nov. 6 general election.

A great deal of the conversation has been focused on low turnout numbers and what they may mean for the general election. It should be noted that holding a primary in August is guaranteed to generate lower-than-average turnout numbers, but claims that this favors Democrats or Republicans are dubious at best.

Here are my quick personal assessments of what to look for in what I feel are key races for Republicans to watch tonight and in the weeks to come.


Of course, Democratic candidate Jay Inslee and Republican front-runner Rob McKenna will emerge as the top two vote-getters and move on to compete in the November general election, but it’s easy to see that the McKenna campaign will spend more time interpreting the tea leaves than will his competitor.

For months, the far-right campaign of Republican candidate Shahram Hadian has stoked a bonfire of dissent against McKenna. My prediction is that Hadian’s final share of the vote will be no more than 4 and 6 percent, but could Hadian pull a “Didier” and refuse to endorse the Republican primary winner? Some of Hadian’s support will glide into McKenna’s column for November regardless of an endorsement, but a path to victory for McKenna will be much easier to see if the combined Republican total in the primary beats Inslee by 4 to 5 percent.

The results of primary balloting will also be a first indication of whether McKenna can take a bite out of Inslee’s expected majorities in densely populated King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. Don’t expect in your wildest dreams for McKenna to grab just over 53 percent of the vote in King County as he did in 2008, despite Pres. Barack Obama winning the county in a landslide at 70 percent. In order for the dreams of electing the first Republican governor in three decades to be realized, McKenna should be looking to break the high water mark set by Susan Hutchison in her 2009 campaign for King County Executive. In a wildly partisan race for a nonpartisan position, Hutchison received almost 41 percent of the vote.

If both of the storm fronts facing McKenna – the question of converting Hadian support to McKenna support and making inroads into Democratic territory such as King County – turn against him, it could make for an uphill climb all the way to November. As the campaign would be forced to shore up support in more conservative Eastern Washington, while repairing

My bottom-line prediction is for Inslee 45, McKenna 40, Hadian 5, and Hadian will chooses to either kick over like a bully kicks over a sand castle Republican’s dreams of ending the era of Democrat-led decline in state government or to respond in a way that addresses the big picture.

1st Congressional District

Last year’s redistricting commission transformed the 1st Congressional District from a comfortably Democratic territory in Central Puget Sound to what could be one of the most politically balanced congressional seats in the nation that runs from the Canadian border to northern King County, but one that encompasses a wide range of voters—rural and suburban, farmers and tech workers.

Further complicating things, the timing of Jay Inslee’s decision earlier this year to retire from Congress to devote full attention to his campaign for governor has created parallel 1st Congressional District races. Though the big picture should rightly be the outcome of the race to succeed resigned Congressman Jay Inslee in the redrawn district, the contest to replace Inslee for the final month of the current term could also provide insights about voter sentiment in the old 1st Congressional District. All of the major candidates running to represent the new district beginning next January are also running in the special election providing a rare opportunity to invite questions on the effect Inslee’s decision-making have had on his party’s brand there.

In the main event, Democrats have fielded five candidates – progressive activist Darcy Burner, former Microsoft executive Suzan Delbene, State Rep. Laura Ruderman, State Sen. Steve Hobbs, and businessman Darshan Rauniyar. Until recently, Burner had held a slim lead on some polls, but Delbene’s massive seven-figure investment of her own cash into the race has swung momentum to her. Republican John Koster stands as the lone candidate on his side of the political aisle drawing considerable support from conservatives to build on his very close finish against Congressman Rick Larsen in 2010.

Most GOP insiders will be doing a happy dance tonight if the radically left-wing Burner begins with a large enough lead over more moderate Delbene, but Burner’s head start will need to be significant to overcome Delbene’s all-out media and mail campaign in the final days of balloting.

My bottom line prediction is for Koster to come through with a solid 40 percent, Burner to start out after tonight with a three- to four-point lead over Delbene, but that lead will evaporate as late ballots are counted.

6th Congressional District

In a nutshell, this is a barnburner of a race to replace retiring Democratic Congressman Norm Dicks, a gentlemanly Republican duel pitting former timber executive Bill Driscoll’s ability to jumpstart a campaign from his personal war chest against the established grassroots candidacy of Jesse Young. Both candidates have impressive backgrounds, excellent ideas, and have been beating the street to press the flesh with voters.

The Democrat anointed to succeed Dicks – State Rep. Derek Kilmer – should bring home at least 40 to 43 percent of the vote. If Kilmer falls below that mark, expect the balance of congressional campaign fundraising and logistical support to tip heavily in the favor of the Republican primary victor. Who will that be? Your guess is as good as mine.

Final tallies are too tough  to call, but if Kilmer does not break around 35 to 38 percent the 6th Congressional District will almost certainly move into Republican hands in the next Congress.


[featured photo credit: Outdated Productions]