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Obama-to-Trump, Romney-to-Clinton: How will Spokane County shift in 2020?

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 26, 2020

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden holds up a mask as President Donald Trump takes notes during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.  (Morry Gash)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden holds up a mask as President Donald Trump takes notes during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (Morry Gash)

Members of both parties agree that President Donald Trump inspires strong reactions from voters. 

“You either love him or you hate him,” said Beva Miles, chair of the Republicans of Spokane County. 

The polarization, well documented in national political polls, has led election observers to wonder whether there are any undecided voters left in a presidential contest that has occurred as traditional outlets of voter outreach have been curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

But Washington voters have switched parties in the past, and at least one national poll watcher has suggested that Spokane County may go blue for the first time in more than two decades

An examination of presidential voting in Spokane County showed numerous precincts in and around Hillyard as well as western portions of Spokane Valley switching from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump four years later. At the same time, several precincts in south Spokane, mostly south of 37th Avenue switched from Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Numerous polls have showed that white voters in particular have become more divided in recent years in how they vote for president. College educated whites are leaning to Democrats while those without a college degree are leaning more toward Republicans.

Democrats have focused on increasing the turnout in 2020, rather than trying to dissuade Trump voters, said Andrew Biviano, the former chair of the Spokane County Democratic Party and a candidate for Spokane County Commissioner in 2016.

He pointed to the state of Wisconsin, which Trump won four years ago after Obama carried it in 2012. But Trump won Wisconsin with 2,000 fewer votes than Mitt Romney amassed in 2012, indicating that it was lower turnout, not enthusiasm for Trump, that was key to his victory in the Badger State. 

“That’s true in a lot of other states around the country as well,” Biviano said.

Biviano said he thoroughly canvassed the neighborhoods west of the Hillyard main strip four years ago, an area that had historically supported Democrats. When he knocked on the doors of people he believed would be solid supporters, he found Trump voters instead. 

“For a white person without a college degree, the chances of it being a Trump supporter just were so high,” Biviano said. 

Many of the people in that category belonged to trade unions, groups that had consistently voted Democrat. But those people were now supporting the Republican party’s nominee. 

Sue Bergman, owner of The B & B Junk Company on the corner of Market Street and Olympic Avenue since the mid-1990s, said she believed the area has always had a conservative bent. That’s been reflected in the clientele of her shop, especially after the 2016 campaign.

“I’m more likely to vote person rather than party,” said Bergman, 73, who said Trump wasn’t her first choice four years ago but that she’d grown to “respect his abilities a bit more.” 

Others groups have been swayed to support the president in spite of past Democratic votes. 

Michael Sessions, 38, moved to Spokane from Seattle earlier this year. A supporter of President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Sessions said he voted for Trump in 2016 largely due to what he felt were unkept promises by the Democratic president.

“We paid $512 a month for insurance we couldn’t use,” Sessions said of his family under the Affordable Care Act. “We tried to go to the doctor one time. But it wasn’t covered.”

Sessions said Trump had done a better job than Obama on curtailing illegal immigration and in support of veterans, noting that his G.I. Bill assistance was reduced while Obama was in office.  

The polarization of the president has worked the other way in Spokane County, as well.  

Katie Walsh, 32, voted for Romney in 2012. She voted third party in 2016, one of nearly 29,000 Spokane County voters who did so. In that election, fewer than 20,000 votes in the county separated Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Walsh said this year she’s voting for Biden.

“Education, accessibility and medical care are three of the things that I look at where a candidate stands, and I don’t like where President Trump stands on those issues,” Walsh said. 

Walsh said she knew less about the third party candidates in this election year, and that she viewed Biden as “the lesser of two evils” when casting her ballot. 

For the most part, Miles said she expects voters in Spokane County at the presidential level to stay true to their party. For a county with three Republican county commissioners and an 11,000 vote margin in 2018’s Congressional contest in favor of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers over Lisa Brown, that would make it unlikely Biden becomes the first Democrat to carry the county since Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996. 

Miles said she believes there will be more moderates will be more likely to vote for Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp than for Trump. voter movement down ballot, in the gubernatorial race between Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican Loren Culp. 

Ballots are due to the Elections Office Nov. 3. 

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