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Spin Control: 2022 election almost over, but are lessons learned?

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray joins other candidates on election night at the Westin Hotel in Bellevue.

It’s a rare election that doesn’t impart important lessons, and this year’s was no exception.

Some were things we should have known, but either forgot or ignored. Others were things we learned and should try hard not to forget, but probably will.

Although there are still thousands of votes to be counted around the state, here are some of the lessons of 2022:

Elections are rarely about one thing. Political commentators usually pick one particular issue, concentrate on it for a week or two as the determining factor in an upcoming election, then move on to something else as if the first issue no longer exists.

Voters face multiple issues at the same time, navigate a path through them and try to pick a candidate who will help most or hurt least.

People outside of Washington always underestimate Patty Murray. After national pundits got tired of arguing whether the election would be about abortion or gas prices – as if people couldn’t be concerned about both – some started saying or writing in October that the state’s five-term senator might not get her sixth.

This was not just talking heads on FOX news and other conservative news sites who found Tiffany Smiley an engaging interview. George F. Will, in a column printed in this newspaper, opined nearly a month before the election that Washington could be in for “a Senate shocker.” He described Smiley’s compelling biography and quoted some polls that said the race was close.

He paraphrased a line attributed to the late Warren G. Magnuson about seeing all the voters needed to win from the top of the Space Needle, but then suggested that “everywhere else” in Washington was different. Smiley, who he said was from everywhere else, could produce the shocker of the 2022 election.

Will, who is a student of history as well as an elegant wordsmith, apparently ignored Murray’s history of dispatching opponents who have been built up by the GOP. As a state legislator, she beat by 10 percentage points her first opponent, U.S. Rep. Rod Chandler, who looked like he’d been summoned from central casting to fill the role of senator.

She dispatched conservative Christian firebrand Linda Smith by 16 percentage points in 1998; George Nethercutt, who had defeated a House speaker 10 years earlier by 12 points in 2004; Dino Rossi, beloved by Republicans who believed the 2004 gubernatorial election was stolen from him, came closest but still down 4 points in 2010; and Chris Vance, a former legislator and state party chairman, who lost by 18 points.

Murray won Seattle and King County by about 3-to-1, but also won the other Puget Sound counties, which one cannot see from the Needle on even the clearest days, plus Vancouver and Clark County. As of Friday, she was ahead of Smiley by nearly 300,000 votes or about 12 points.

You can’t win if you don’t play. Democrats need to take a lesson from the old Washington Lottery commercials that used that slogan to boost ticket sales.

Of the 12 legislative positions on various Spokane County ballots, seven had a Republican incumbent facing no Democratic challenger. One other race was between two Republicans. One of the five new county commissioner positions was between two Republicans and another was between a Republican and an independent who goes by “Wild Bill.” Three of the county executive spots went to unchallenged Republicans, the sheriff’s race was between two Republicans and the county prosecutor’s race was between a Republican and an independent.

You might say that Spokane County trends Republican, so what’s the point? But the 3rd Legislative District is heavily Democratic but Republicans always manage candidates for those seats.

After voting at the top of the ticket, some Democrats or independents may have looked down the ballot to see uncontested races or a matchup of two Republicans likely, and decided to fold up their unfinished ballot and tuck it into the security envelope.

Like football, elections can be a game of inches. Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for having the secretary of state position switch to the Democrats for the first time in 48 years.

Appointed incumbent Steve Hobbs, a Democrat, faced a serious challenge from Julie Anderson, an independent with good credentials for the job as Pierce County auditor. Anderson squeaked through the primary because three Republicans split the vote and didn’t qualify through the top two primary.

Republican Brad Klippert, a Kennewick legislator who failed in his bid to oust U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse in Central Washington, then decided to run a write-in campaign for secretary of state. As of Friday, Anderson was about 51,000 votes behind Hobbs; the write-in total was more than 85,000.

By comparison, the write-in total in the only other statewide contested race, between Murray and Smiley, was about 4,700. It was fairly consistent among all 39 counties and always below 1%, while the write-ins for secretary of state were highest in counties that voted for Smiley, and topped 10% in some Central Washington counties near Klippert’s legislative district.

Polls don’t predict elections. Television talking heads learn this every election and promptly forget it.

They don’t foretell the future, they give you a snapshot view of public opinion at the time they are conducted. Every pollster uses a different formula – some better than others and none perfect – so you can’t compare one set of results with another. Depending on the formula, the snapshot may be in soft focus or completely out of focus when you get the results and that gets worse with time.

Campaigns tend to use polls to test public sentiment on issues. They always ask the “if the election were held today, who would you vote for” question to track how the campaign message is playing since the last time they polled.

Reporters should never accept at face value the results of a “how would you vote” question from a campaign without seeing the methodology and the rest of the poll. And if a campaign shares the issues results but not numbers for their candidate, the results for that question are inevitably bad.

Tsunami waves are rare in nature and even rarer in politics. Neither are predictable weeks or even days ahead of time, so political operatives and pundits should be banned from predicting them and only use the term after the results are in.

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