Politics Blog

Chair of Whatcom Dems ‘cautiously optimistic’ heading into Election Day

Will the Democrats reproduce the magic of the 2013 Whatcom County Council sweep and gain some seats in the 42nd Legislative District?

On election eve, the county party chairman, whether toeing the party line or out of sincere belief in his troops, says don’t rule it out.

“We’re doing a very intense field effort,” said Mike Estes, chairman of the Whatcom Democrats, on Monday, Nov. 3. “We’re trying to get turnout higher. If turnout is high enough, we’ll win.”

All signs indicate a Republican sweep of the 42nd, which contains all of Whatcom’s small cities, the north-county farmlands and north Bellingham. Republicans have held all three seats in the district since the 2010 elections, when Vincent Buys surprised incumbent Democrat Kelli Linville in one small part of the national Republican revolution.

Buys seeks his third term against Democratic challenger and former Everson City Council member Joy Monjure. In the Senate, incumbent Doug Ericksen faces Democrat Seth Fleetwood in an especially heated and expensive campaign. In the other house seat, which is open, longtime Republican Party officer Luanne Van Werven is up against Democrat Satpal Sidhu, a business leader and a former dean at Bellingham Technical College.

Democrats are down nationally again this year, Chris Vance writes for Crosscut. Although Vance has a distinct Republican resume, his arguments for why the GOP will retain control of the state Senate are reasonable. One of his five points is the one I used last week: the better showing by Republicans in the Aug. 5 primaries.

First, there are the fundamentals of the election. The President’s party usually loses congressional and legislative seats in off-year elections. Second, President Obama's approval ratings are low, which hurts Democrats up and down the ticket.

Third, the national generic ballot polling indicates a Republican advantage of 2.8 percent; not a huge lead, but enough to predict Republicans are ahead in battleground suburban districts.

Fourth, low turnout favors Republicans, and the turnout will be extremely low in Washington state this year due to the lack of a gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race.

Fifth, and most importantly, the results of Washington state’s primary, in which all voters are allowed to vote for any candidate, historically serves as a good indicator of how a race will end up. Candidates who trail by more than a few points in the primary — alone or in aggregate with other members of their party — rarely win in November.

Vance doesn’t seem to play favorites with his preferred party. For one thing, he said Pedro Celis hasn’t done enough to overtake Suzan DelBene for her seat in the House of Representatives. He also gives Democrats some hope for the state Senate:

There are two major variables we can’t predict now: Will there be movement toward either party between now and Tuesday? (His article was posted on Thursday, Oct. 30.) And will the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote effort cancel out the other advantages the GOP enjoys?

It’s that get-out-the-vote effort, Estes said, that gives Whatcom Democrats hope in the 42nd.

“There’s a perceived lack of interest among Democrats,” Estes said. “The way I look at it, the conservative vote is around the same. If there’s a higher turnout (overall), Democrats will do better.”

“We’re all about the turnout. ... We know the high-water mark. Obama barely won the district (in 2012).”

How intensive is the county Democrats’ get-out-the-vote effort this year?

“We’ve been working on this even before the primary,” Estes said. “Voter interest increases as you get close to the end. We have more volunteers out and about these days. Through most of October, volunteers have been out on a daily basis, talking to voters.”

I asked Estes if he would venture a prediction for Tuesday night’s results in the 42nd.

“I would say I am cautiously optimistic about squeezing out a victory in some of those races,” Estes said. “The numbers were stacked against us initially, but an intense volunteer effort ... will give us a close shot.”

“It’s historically been unlikely to shift (from) the primary (results) as much as we are hoping to do,” he continued. “Going into this campaign, from the outset, we knew we were trying to do something unlikely — and we were perhaps capable of doing that.”