Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Darcy Falls Short, But Does Well Enough

Aug. 21: Updated below with an e-mail from the Burner campaign

After more than a day of vote counting, it still looks as though Darcy Burner will come in second in yesterday's primary. Of course, in this kind of primary, where the top two finishers go on the general election ballot, second best is good enough. Trying to tease much more meaning out of the numbers is a difficult proposition, however.

Here is a graphic of the vote totals as of 5:15 PM PDT :

[By the way, all these graphics are screen grabs from the Washington Secretary of State's election totals page. Click on a graph to see it full size.]

As you can see, Reichert has a lead of about 2,700 votes. That's far less than the combined totals of the four people who won't be in the November election, roughly 6,400. Two of those other candidates were Democrats, and at first blush you'd think most would go to Darcy in the fall. That's about 4,300 votes between them. But that's only at first blush.

Look at the county by county totals. In King County, widely regarded as the liberal stronghold, Burner and Reichert are almost dead even:

Keep in mind that just because King County is liberal, that doesn't make Darcy's district liberal. It's been a swing district for at least the last decade. The vote reflects that. Also note that the other two Democrats received about 4.4 percent of the vote between them.

In Pierce County, which is a bit more conservative, but predominately a working class region, the numbers look different:

Here, Reichert leads by a much wider margin, nearly 13 percent. Also note that the two other Democrats have about seven percent between them here, half again more than their portion of the vote in King County. I infer from this that Vaughn and Arnold, the other Democrats, appeal to more conservative Democrats than Burner does. This might not be true, but it fits the character of the place. More of those folks will likely vote for Reichert in the Fall, all other things being equal.

If this were all the people who were going to vote in November, I'd say that Darcy had some things to worry about. The one thing that's hopeful is the number of folks who showed up for this election. In King County, fewer than 20 percent of registered voters showed up. In Pierce, it was about 25 percent. In the last couple of Presidential elections, the turnout has been over 50 percent. A lot of people didn't show up this time. Since the people who show up to vote are almost the definition of a self-selecting population, it's reasonable to assume that the other 25 percent of the electorate who didn't show up yesterday may see things differently.

Still, if these are the numbers as they'll be in the fall, Darcy needs to fix some things. The campaign has spent a lot of money to end up with what looks like a tie. Perhaps the most important thing is to tie Dave Reichert to his voting record. The press out here likes to pretend he's independent-minded. It's hard to imagine a more ridiculous image, given how he's voted.

One thing we can do is keep the press more honest. When they spin Reichert as open-minded on an issue, we need to write letters to the editor explaining why that's not true. The Seattle Times has a dreadful LTE policy - maximum of 200 words. On some subjects, you can barely state that they're wrong in 200 words, never mind trying to back that up with facts or logic. Still, enough people writing in could have an effect.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what we can do, other than send more money, of course. This is going to be a tough battle, but it's one we need to win this time.

UPDATE (Aug. 21): I received a "Dear Supporter" e-mail today from the Burner campaign, and I thought I'd pass along this part, which is relevant to this article:

We have two metrics we can use to get a sense of where we are at:

  • In the blanket primary system that prevailed in Washington State prior to 2003, and which is most similar to our current primary, there were only 10 times (out of 94 races) where an incumbent member of Congress got less than 50 percent of the primary vote. In seven of those ten contests, the challenger went on to victory in November.
  • Earlier this year, in Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District, there was a two-round special election. In the first round, the Republican got 46.3% of the vote, and the Democratic nominee and other candidates split the rest. When the run-off took place, the Republican once again got 46.3% of the vote, and Travis Childers, the Democrat, consolidated all of the other votes and won with 53.7% of the vote.

I like those odds.

[emphasis from original]

I'm not quite as sanguine about the odds, for a number of reasons. Still, it's clear that Darcy has a good shot at winning this election. She needs to make Reichert's true policies evident, and may need to work Pierce County a little more thoroughly than she has. If she does that, she should be able to win in November.

Meanwhile, here's what the totals look like today:
Boleslaw Orlinski (I)10140.99
Richard Todd (I)1,4921.45
James E. Vaughn (D)3,5683.47
Dave Reichert (R)49,32547.93
Keith Arnold (D)1,3711.33
Darcy Burner (D)46,14444.84

One of the things that makes me less sanguine is that Reichert isn't all that far under 50 percent. In fact, he's within 2.1 percent of 50. The other is that this is the primary, and who knows who else will show up for the general election? My guess is that, if the historic pattern holds, those other voters will favor Democrats, but that isn't a hard-and-fast rule.

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