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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Incumbents persevere, but challenges await

Updated primary tallies sharpen November picture

Thousands of votes are still to be counted from Tuesday’s primary, but along with most races, some lessons are clear.

Lesson 1: It may be uncomfortable to be an incumbent this year, but it’s not fatal. Few incumbents were eliminated in the state’s top-two primary, but some clearly have their work ahead of them.

Count among them state Sen. Chris Marr, a Spokane businessman who received party acclaim four years ago as the first Democrat to win the seat in Spokane’s 6th District in six decades. He trails GOP challenger Michael Baumgartner in primary election balloting.

Or ask Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker, a three-term Republican incumbent who faced two GOP challengers and finished second to Democrat Frank Malone.

While U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and most sitting House members had an easy primary night, five-term Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen is trading the lead with Republican challenger John Koster in northwestern Washington’s 2nd District.

For all the knock against establishment candidates, a six-way race for the one open U.S. House seat in Washington was trimmed down to the most established contenders of the bunch, Republican Jaime Herrera, a state legislator, and Democrat Denny Heck, a former legislator, former chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner, and president of TVW, the state version of C-SPAN.

The most noticeable – and arguably the most heavily targeted – incumbent on Tuesday’s ballot, three-term U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, easily topped a 15-candidate field. She’s got less than 50 percent of the votes cast, so the general election won’t be a cakewalk, but Republican Dino Rossi got second place with about 34 percent. He was described by his GOP rivals as the next worst thing to an incumbent: an establishment candidate.

Pollster Stuart Elway noted Wednesday morning that Murray and Rossi were 12 percentage points apart, just as they were in a June 15 poll.

Lesson 2: The tea party, or whatever one calls the movement to pare government, is limited in the Northwest, and Sarah Palin’s support can generate interest, but not necessarily votes.

That’s what Clint Didier, a former pro football player and current Eltopia farmer, discovered in the U.S. Senate primary. He had a strong and consistent “cut federal government, follow the Constitution” message, similar to 2008 GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul, and picked up Palin’s endorsement in May. But like Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward, who got the former vice presidential nominee’s nod earlier this year, Didier finished out of the money in the primary.

Paul supporters control the Spokane County GOP, and they had a mixed night. They supported John Ahern, who won the intra-party contest with Shelly O’Quinn to face Democratic state Rep. John Driscoll. But they also endorsed Dave Stevens, a former deputy prosecutor and their own vice chairman, in his fight against Tucker. Stevens finished third among Republicans and fourth overall.

Which leads to Lesson 3: Party endorsements may be nice, but name recognition is better.

After 12 years on the job, Tucker has name recognition. So does Ahern, who held the state House seat for four terms before losing it to Driscoll in 2008. That probably counted for more than the party’s endorsement.

Spokane County Democrats recruited and endorsed Clyde Cordero, a Spokane Valley resident who sells Internet advertising, to run against three-term U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Problem was, Cordero was a recent transplant to the area and few Democrats knew him. Daryl Romeyn, a former television weatherman and outdoor living reporter, joined the race late but was immediately better known. So too, apparently, was Barbara Lampert, who has run for some office every year since 1996. She’s never won, but her name might be getting very familiar to voters.

Romeyn finished second, to advance to the general; Lampert finished third, well ahead of the Democrats’ hand-picked candidate, Cordero.

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