Low primary turnout expected
Lack of competitiveness, big issues are key factors
OLYMPIA – Ten congressional races and dozens of legislative contests across Washington will be decided by voters this week, though many of the races don’t offer much competition.
In 95 of the 123 legislative races on the ballot, there’s no contest. Twenty-two races are unopposed, and in 73 seats, there are only two candidates running, all of whom will automatically advance to the November ballot under the state’s top-two primary system. The top two vote-getters in each race advance to the general election, regardless of party.
Todd Donovan, a political scientist at Western Washington University, said the ballot reflects the difficulty of getting people to run against an incumbent due to the time and money required for a campaign.
“Unless it’s an open seat, the odds of winning, as a new candidate, are very low,” he said.
While voters began receiving their state primary ballots in the mail weeks ago, Tuesday is the last day for voters to get their ballots in or postmarked for mail delivery. In some of the more competitive races, results may not be known for days as most counties will update vote counts only once a day. While there are no statewide offices on the ballot, the match that is getting the most attention is the 4th Congressional District race to replace U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, who is retiring after two decades in the seat.
A dozen candidates – eight Republicans, two independents and two Democrats – crowd that race. Four Republicans appear to be the front-runners: Dan Newhouse, a former state legislator and director of the state Department of Agriculture; Clint Didier, a former NFL star and now a farmer and tea party candidate; state Sen. Janea Holmquist; and attorney George Cicotte.
“It’s hard to figure out at any one moment which candidates are going to emerge from that race,” said Travis Ridout, a professor of government and public policy at Washington State University. “Will it be two Republicans, or will a Democrat sneak in?”
The potential for two Republicans to advance from that race to the general election would be a first, said David Ammons, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. Even though same-party contenders have emerged from primaries in previous state legislative primaries, Ammons said, that has never happened for a statewide office or congressional race.
The remaining nine U.S. House seats are also contested in the primary, with the incumbents seeking re-election. In the Legislature, all 98 House seats are in the mix, as are 25 Senate seats. Currently in the Legislature, a mostly Republican coalition holds a 26-23 advantage in the Senate, and Democrats hold a 55-43 advantage in the House.
An open Senate seat in the 37th District has drawn six contenders – five Democrats and one Republican – to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Adam Kline. A contentious race in the Senate’s 31st District has two Republicans battling to move forward: incumbent state Sen. Pam Roach and Rep. Cathy Dahlquist. A third candidate, Lynda Messner, is running as a Democrat, but her party affiliation has been questioned by allies of Dahlquist and local Democrats because of comments she made online.
Democratic incumbent Sen. Tim Sheldon, who raised the ire of his party when he crossed party lines to caucus with Republicans and helped create the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate, faces challengers from the right and left in the 35th District primary. Business groups and others have spent more than $161,000 in support of Sheldon in advance of the primary.
The secretary of state’s office has predicted that voter turnout for the primary will be at about 40 percent.
Ammons said that without a statewide race on the ballot and limited advertising, most voters aren’t paying attention.
“So many things that would cause people to look up from their summer barbecue and start thinking about elections just aren’t there at this point,” he said.
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