Nationally, Tuesday’s election pretty much went as the polls suggested they would. With both Democrats and Republicans highly motivated to vote this year, 2018’s midterms have shattered all kinds of national election turnout records for a non-presidential year. In Washington State, it doesn’t appear that the 1970 turnout record (which topped a whopping 70 percent) will be challenged. But with that enthusiasm, far more people than usual voted early: Almost half of the state’s 4.3 million registered voters (1.8 million) had their ballots counted with the state’s first release of election totals on Tuesday night. That will likely be at least two-thirds of the final total of voters – so that in key races where a candidate has a significant first night lead, that lead will be difficult to overcome as more ballots are counted..
In the Seattle area, where there aren’t that many Trump fans to urge to vote, progressive Democrats are looking at a nearly clean general election sweep. Start with the statewide initiatives: I-1631 (the carbon fee) is the lone exception to progressive success. It’s losing solidly, 45 to 55 percent, in a campaign that pitted environmental activists and Gov. Inslee against a 16 million dollar advertising onslaught paid for almost entirely by Big Oil. I-1631 would have been the first measure of its type in the country. However, we’ve seen in the past how much money companies or industries are willing to spend to prevent a new local or statewide idea from taking hold, whether it be an Employee Hours Tax, a ban on plastic bags, or I-732, an earlier, messier attempt at a carbon tax in 2016. Or soda taxes.
On that front, the sugared drink industry, led by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, sponsored initiatives in both Washington and Oregon this November that would have banned taxes similar to Seattle’s new sugared drink tax, which went into effect last January. In both Northwest states, those initiatives are failing – 42 to 58 percent in Oregon, 45 to 55 percent in our state – despite a blizzard of dishonest advertising, in both states, that depicted “politicians” as poised to tax all of our groceries and hurt grandma. And another heavyweight in the field of blocking activist initiatives, the National Rifle Association, failed in its efforts to block I-1639, a package of background checks and other firearms purchasing and safety requirements that leads comfortably after one night, 60 to 40 percent.
Another progressive ballot measure, I-940 – which would remove language in state law that has made it functionally impossible to criminally prosecute law enforcement officers for criminal on-duty use of force incidents – is also passing by a 60/40 percent margin after one night.
And in the biggest race in Western Washington, the campaign to replace retiring Republican Dave Reichert in Congress, Democrat Dr. Kim Schrier had an astonishing 11,764 vote lead (53/47 percent) in what late polls had described as either a toss-up or a race in which Schrier’s opponent, Trump defender Dino Rossi, was leading. Fifty-three percent might not sound like much of a lead – but given the large early voting turnout, Rossi would likely need to win at least 60 percent of the few remaining votes to come to catch Schrier. If her lead holds, that would be a huge victory for local Democrats.
In fact, the only two progressive Democrats that are clearly losing after the first night’s count are trailing other Democrats: Sarah Smith trails longtime incumbent congressional Rep. Adam Smith, 30/70 percent, and in state legislative district (LD) 32, incumbent Sen. Maralyn Chase, who has long ruffled the feathers of centrist Democrats in her district, trails Shoreline deputy mayor Jesse Saloman by a similar 30/70 percent margin.
The news is otherwise remarkably good for progressives after one night. In races nobody expected to be close, both Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Pramila Jayapal are ahead by unassailable margins. Several closer state legislative races have also broken well for progressives. In Federal Way’s LD 30, reactionary incumbent Sen. Mark Miloscia won last August’s primary against Federal Way school board director Claire Wilson, 48 to 38 percent – but this time Wilson is leading, 53.1 to 46.9 percent. If Wilson can hold onto that lead, she will join two notably progressive first-time legislators of color in Olympia: West Seattle’s Joe Nguyen (who leads centrist Shannon Braddock, 58/42 percent, in the race to replace retiring Sen. Sharon Nelson in LD 34); and My-Linh Thai, who leads Michael Appleby in Bellevue’s LD 41, an open House seat, by a 65/35 percent margin.
Lastly, two other high-profile races remain far too close to call after one night: In Legislative District 47 (Auburn), embattled Republican incumbent Sen. Joe Fain, who is under investigation for an alleged 2007 rape, leads challenger Mona Das by only 274 votes, 20,093 to 19,819. And up in Whatcom County’s LD 42, far right incumbent Sen. Doug Ericksen, who chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in our state in 2016, leads Democratic challenger Pinky Vargas by only 451 votes: 30,978 to 30,527.
In the coming days, watch the margins of the critical Schrier/Rossi race, as well as Fain/Das in LD 47 and Ericksen/Vargas in LD 42. If they don’t narrow – a lot – on the second and third days, the leader on the first night will likely win. But if, for example, Democrats were stronger in later voting, both Fain and Ericksen could be in real trouble. Either of those races has the potential to expand the Democrats’ legislative majorities in Olympia, in what has already been a strong election for progressives.