2010 Elections, 8/17 edition (the “Obama Plunge” reaches Washington)

Tonight, two states (Washington and Wyoming) held their primaries. In Wyoming, the only race of note was a crowded Republican primary for Governor, which was a proxy battle between the establishment (former President George H.W. Bush endorsed former state House speaker Collin Simpson, the son of a former senator) and the insurgents (Sarah Palin endorsed state auditor Rita Meyer). The complete but unofficial returns show Palin’s choice lost by 700 votes (Wyoming does not have runoffs, and Meyer has conceded), but the establishment choice finished 4th with 16% of the vote.


Another noticeable aspect to the Wyoming results was that the Republican enthusiasm which has consistently manifested itself in contested primaries was apparent here as well. In this case, 85% of primary voters voted in the GOP primary. Since Republicans hold a 61-25% lead in voter registration, there was clearly more enthusiasm on the Republican side.

While GOP enthusiasm and setbacks for the GOP establishment were the takeaways from the Wyoming primary, in Washington, we got to see more real life examples of the “Obama plunge” . Washington is unique in that, like Louisiana, it has an open primary where candidates compete on the same ballot. However, in Washington (and unlike Louisiana), regardless of the percentage of the vote each candidate received, the top vote getter from each party then advances to the general election in November.

Before we discuss the particular races, some context needs to be provided. Washington’s congressional delegation consists of two Democratic senators and six (out of nine) House members. Additionally, Washington has been on a Democratic voting streak for decades. Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide was the last time a Republican presidential candidate has carried the state. And in the 14 statewide races held since the 1984 Reagan landslide, Republicans have only won twice. To paint a final picture of the Democratic dominance here, Barack Obama, thanks to near unanimous margins in liberal Seattle, carried the state 58-40% in the 2008 Presidential election.

(UPDATED 9/1) The state’s senior senator is Patty Murray, who was known as the “mom in tennis shoes” and, despite a liberal voting record (she once noted in 2002 that Osama bin Laden was popular because he built schools and day care centers), was always re-elected with at least 55% of the vote. While she ran first (as expected), she only received 46% of the vote – in other words, a 12% “Obama plunge” that has been consistent with other major statewide races held since “cap and trade” passed the House last year. This 46% figure, however, has been consistent with a composite of recent polling showing her with a 48-45% lead. More ominous for her was the fact that of those voting, 50% chose a Republican candidate, while only 49% (Patty Murray shared the ballot with three other Democrats) voted for a Democrat. Since this is one of several races we believe will determine who controls the Senate, this is definitely a race on our radar.

(UPDATED 8/20) The “Obama plunge” also was apparent in the Congressional primaries. Currently, the House delegation consists of 6 Democrats and 3 Republicans (one of those Democrats, however, is retiring).  In 2008, the Democratic incumbents seeking re-election were re-elected with 62 to 84% of the vote, while the three Republicans received between 53 and 65% of the vote. So far, we are noticing that the five Democratic incumbents seeking re-election this year received between 42 and 80% of the vote, which equates to an “Obama plunge” of 6 to 20%.

(UPDATED 8/24) In our discussion of the “Obama plunge” , we noted that the drop-off in Democratic support was minimal in districts with a significant “Democratic base vote”. Accordingly, in the urban Seattle district that gave Barack Obama 84% of the vote, there was only a 4% “plunge”. In the other four (more marginal) districts, the plunge ranged from 10 to 20% of the vote. Even more telling was that in the open Democratic seat, Republican candidates were preferred over Democrats 54-43% – in other words, a 10% “Obama plunge” in a district that voted 53% for Obama.

(UPDATED 9/1) While anti-incumbent sentiment made itself known in the Democratic held seats, Republican incumbents weren’t similarly scarred. Though the three House Republicans received between 47 and 63% of the vote in their primaries, it’s also worth noting that there were other Republicans (as well as Tea Partiers and Constitution Party candidates) running, so the total Republican vote in those three districts ranged from 58 to 65% – a good position to be in for November. In fact, for House candidates, 49% voted for Democratic candidates (eerily similar to the Senate race) and 47% chose a Republican candidate (2% voted for Tea/Constitution Party candidates in Republican districts, so these are essentially Republican votes). This is remarkable when you consider that the Republicans didn’t even contest the district in urban Seattle

(UPDATED 9/1) Overall, we see that the GOP has a decent shot at unseating a three term Senate incumbent, and in the House, Republicans have  the opportunity to pick up the open Democratic seat while  holding on to its three seats. We also see that 10 year Democratic incumbent Rick Larsen could be knocked off in November. Though he was re-elected with 62% of the vote in 2008 in a 56% Obama district, he trailed one of his Republican opponents by about 300 votes (and with a weak 42% of the vote) in the primary balloting.

Now that 37 states have held their primaries, next week’s primaries in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Vermont will be worth watching, because not only are there additional “establishment vs insurgent” contests, but we will find out next Tuesday whether John McCain can survive a spirited primary challenge from outspoken former Congressman J.D. Hayworth.

John is a political consultant and blogger with JMC Enterprises with expertise in poll sample development and analysis, development of targeted voter files for phone canvassing or mail outs, campaign strategy and demographic consulting, among other things. See his site at WinWithJMC.com for more information.



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