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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

How could Trump’s conviction play into races in Washington?

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference Friday at Trump Tower following the verdict in his hush-money trial in New York City.  (Spencer Platt)

Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts in a New York City court prompted a flood of speculation about what the outcome means for the former president’s bid to return to the White House in the November election. But Thursday’s verdict seems likely to have ripple effects in races farther down Washington state’s ballot.

In each of Washington’s three congressional districts where Trump won a majority of votes in 2020, some candidates were quick to come to the former president’s defense after a 12-person jury found him guilty of illegally seeking to influence the 2016 election by paying to silence a porn actor who claimed the two had sex. Other candidates in the state stayed notably silent.

In the race for the Fifth Congressional District, representing Eastern Washington in Congress, candidates believed the trial and conviction was or was not legitimate strictly along partisan lines: Democrats praised the outcome, while Republicans called it a sham.

The two major political parties in Spokane County, the most populous county in the district, presaged the stances by the candidates. The Spokane County Republican Party called the accusations baseless and the trial “blatantly political and prejudiced …” On Facebook, the Spokane County Democrats wrote “A convicted Felon was found” and then repeated the word “Guilty” 34 times.

In a brief interview, Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner, running for the seat as a Republican, said the trial was tainted by a “hyperpartisan circus” and would ultimately harm both parties and the country as a whole.

“I think it’s a bad day for the rule of law,” Baumgartner said. “I think it will be bad for both parties, because it further opens the box for using courts to drive a political agenda.”

He argued that the conviction would likely drive an increase in Republican voter intensity, but added that other issues such as inflation and border security would still be the primary focus this November.

Spokane City Councilman Jonathan Bingle, who is also running as a Republican, wrote in a statement that the trial and conviction were driven by politically motivated actors fulfilling campaign promises.

“Moving forward, I hope that my fellow Republicans refuse to retaliate when President Trump wins re-election,” Bingle wrote. “This was gross and wrong. Compounding wrongs would lead us into an even more divisive era in American politics.”

Republican Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel, who served in the Trump administration and is running for Congress, called the trial a “witch hunt” in a statement.

“They will stop at nothing to silence the millions of voters who are fed up with Joe Biden’s incompetence,” Dansel’s statement said.

As many Republicans are vowing to turn the courts against President Joe Biden and other Democrats, small business consultant Ann Marie Danimus, running as a Democrat, said that no one should be above the law.

“If I have evidence that Biden committed a crime and I am a sitting congresswoman, I will vote to convict,” she said. “Period, end of story.”

She argued there was substantial evidence to demonstrate Trump’s guilt, and it is the defense of the former president, not the initial trial, that has been tainted by partisanship.

If the conviction persuades voters to support Biden and down-ballot Democrats, Danimus argued it would have less to do with the charges themselves and more to do with the broader context of Trump’s treatment of women, including his wife, Melania Trump, on whom he allegedly cheated with adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

OB-GYN Bernadine Bank, who is running as a Democrat, added that she would expect to be prosecuted no differently if she had committed the same offenses.

“I think that there’s been so much division in this country that everyone is probably going to come at this with a bit of a bias in terms of right and wrong, but it sounds like the facts are the facts,” Bank said. “I would say that the legal system has worked the way it was supposed to.”

Democratic candidate and former diplomat Carmela Conroy, who previously served as a deputy prosecutor in Spokane County, and Matthew Welde, deputy prosecutor in neighboring Kootenai County, focused on the grand jury that decided that charges should be brought and the trial jury that decided to convict on all counts. They argued that Republicans decrying the judicial system were ignoring that Trump was charged and convicted, not by his Democratic opponents, but by jurors.

“The jury system, both grand juries for indictments and juries for trial, are a vital check on prosecutorial overreach, and the practically volunteer work of 12 Americans of the state of New York, where Mr. Trump is originally from, is just like jurors in Spokane County – I’m sure they took their work seriously,” Conroy said.

“None of the jurors involved asked to be there,” Welde said. “But they did their civic duty and reached the decision in their deliberations privately with no outside influence. Juries are the strongest check against government power we have in our Constitution.”

In central Washington’s 4th Congressional District, incumbent GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse made no statement about the verdict, and a spokesman for his campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. Meanwhile, two prominent Republicans running to oust Newhouse – one of just two House Republicans who survived re-election after voting to impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol riot in 2021 – came out in support of Trump.

“This trial against President Trump has always been politically motivated, and the American people have been clear – it’s not going to change their support,” Tiffany Smiley, who lost a 2022 bid to represent Washington in the Senate, said in a statement Friday. “Hardworking families across our country have watched the events unfold in New York and they know that if our judicial system can be weaponized against a former President today, then who’s to say it won’t be used against them tomorrow?”

Jerrod Sessler, who came up short against Newhouse in the 2022 primary and has Trump’s endorsement this year, said in an interview Friday he was “frustrated already with hearing the term ‘convicted felon,’ which I know is the reason why they wanted to do this.”

“It hurts Dan Newhouse, because he is anti-Trump,” Sessler said of the verdict, adding that Smiley also hadn’t been supportive enough of the former president. “Neither one of them will take a stand … in support of President Trump.”

Todd Schaefer, a professor of political science at Central Washington University, said the felony conviction could help Newhouse defend his vote to impeach Trump, but the congressman is unlikely to do that. Washington’s top-two primary in August, however, creates unusual opportunities for relative moderates to advance, as Newhouse did in 2022, when the vote is split between several candidates.

“I don’t know that it’s going to have any impact in a heavily red district like this,” Schaefer said. “Republicans that aren’t fans of Trump are obviously not going to be swayed by it. Now, does it in a weird way end up having a backlash that helps Sessler as the Trump-endorsed candidate? Maybe.”

In southwest Washington’s 3rd congressional district, Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, who was elected in 2022 despite Trump winning the most presidential votes in the district, made no statement after the conviction. Asked to comment on Friday, her campaign only pointed to a post on the social media platform X in which the congresswoman said she was visiting fishermen in her district an hour after the verdict came down on Thursday.

Across the Columbia River, Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a Republican elected in a district Biden won in 2020, sought to stay above the fray in a statement Thursday.

“It’s disappointing that the national narrative continues overshadowing the kitchen table issues Oregon families are facing every day,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “Sensationalizing the presidential race doesn’t change the fact that Oregonians want relief from the failed policies of the extreme.”

Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican now running for Senate, went further than perhaps any other GOP candidate in a statement shortly before the verdict that prompted Sessler to call him a “buffoon” and a “dangerous person” on X.

“Regardless of the result, I urge all Americans to respect the verdict and the legal process,” Hogan wrote on X. “At this dangerously divided moment in our history, all leaders – regardless of party – must not pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship. We must reaffirm what has made this nation great: the rule of law.”

Washington gubernatorial hopefuls Mark Mullet, Dave Reichert, Bob Ferguson and Semi Bird also chimed in.

Mullet, a Democratic state senator, said the verdict cemented the fact Washington will have a Democratic governor.

“I think he’s being held accountable,” Mullet said in an interview. “I mean, the verdict was fair.”

Mullet said the verdict highlights how toxic the political environment is becoming at the federal level and that it’s more important than ever to have a governor who finds bipartisan solutions.

“I think my track record in the Senate is a proven one of being able to work with Eastern Washington and Western Washington, Republicans and Democrats, to find solutions that work,” he said.

Former U.S. Rep. Reichert, a Republican, called the verdict “a sad day for the nation that merits reflection not rancor.”

“Rest assured that if elected the next Governor of Washington State, I will do everything I can to bring people together, in common purpose, to resolve the challenges we face and the future we all want,” Reichert said in a statement.

Ferguson, Washington’s state attorney general, posted Reichert’s statement on X and responded.

“Let me translate Dave’s statement – he still lacks the political courage to stand up to Donald Trump, even after his felony criminal convictions,” Ferguson wrote.

In a previous post on X, Ferguson wrote that “laws matter.”

“Dave Reichert’s candidate for president just got convicted of 34 felonies,” Ferguson wrote. “I’m running for Governor to uphold the law. America must not elect a convicted felon for president.”

Republican Semi Bird, who won the endorsement of the state Republican Party, took the strongest stance in favor of Trump among the top gubernatorial candidates.

“The endless attacks against President Trump, both civil and criminal, have been targeted and specific to one purpose and one purpose only. To remove him from the presidential race,” Bird wrote on X. “It’s time to ensure the rule of law, election integrity, and return power to the people, not the wealthy political elites.”

Bird told The Spokesman-Review the verdict was an “injustice” and the judge overseeing the case was “biased.” He said he would have the same opinion if President Joe Biden had been convicted under the same circumstances.

“I think it shows the American people that we have a breakdown in our justice system in terms of how people have weaponized their positions for their own agenda,” Bird said.

He said the verdict could benefit conservative Republicans running in elections this year.

“I think that could give a boost to those candidates who speak of valuing the Constitution and the rule of law because, again, as I said, if they can do this to a former president and a wealthy business man, then the rest of us are at risk (when it comes to receiving justice).”