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Have local races become nationalized?


Ken Balsley argues that the dictum, “all politics is local,” has been turned on its head. The outcome of the 2017 elections was determined by what he describes as the “Trump effect.”

As evidence, Balsley partly points to incumbent Port Commissioner Bill McGregor barely winning re-election and incumbent Olympia City Councilmember Jannine Roe losing her seat.

This theory makes sense to me. As previously discussed, incumbents typically win re-election in Thurston County unless they are wounded — or hit by an electoral wave that dramatically changes turnout. McGregor’s brush with political death is particularly striking because of the enormous sums of independent money spent on behalf of his campaign.

I haven’t had a chance to drill down into voting data, but I suspect that in a “normal” year Bill Fishburn would have been solidly defeated. By the same token, if Balsley had run for Lacey city council in 2016 he might not have lost — or at least by such a large margin.

Recall that in 2016 local conservatives did pretty well. Although part of the problem was that the Democrats didn’t have the strongest of candidates, the conservative vote appeared to be elevated relative to liberal/progressives — perhaps at least partly due to national dynamics.

In a series of posts Emmett O’Connell has offered useful details on how the candidates did at the precinct level. I’m still percolating on what his maps show, but my initial takeaway is that this year moderate voters seemed to feel unusually comfortable embracing the more liberal or progressive candidate. Why?

Let’s go back to Balsley, who wrote: “I should have seen it coming. I doorbelled more than 1200 homes in Lacey. Not many people asked questions, but those that did had one question they almost always asked — ‘Are you a Republican or Democrat’ and ‘Did you vote for Trump?'”

If this dynamic held across Thurston County, it would make sense that McGregor and his conservative ally Gigi McClure would see their vote totals depressed. But how would one explain Olympia races where two card-carrying Democrats were running against each other?

Perhaps what we’re seeing is elevated populist sensibility among more moderate Democrats and independents in response to the machinations of the other Washington.

One other factor could be that liberal and progressive candidates ran exceptionally strong campaigns, such as by better coordinating among each other.

Of course, if we had instead experienced a conservative wave election the opposite might have been said.


8 Comments on Have local races become nationalized?

  1. If he only doorbelled 1200 doors in Lacey, then that’s why he lost. Period. End of story. We (Carolyn’s campaign) had a far superior ground game.

    • Rob, could you say more? For this race what would have been a good target number for doorbelling? What about with an Olympia city council race? How robust do you think Ken’s get-out-the-vote effort was compared to Carolyn’s? While you’re at it, could you clarify which campaigns you worked on?

  2. We (Fishburn’s team), knocked around 15,000 doors and another 7,000 lit dropped directly to doors. We also talked to thousands of people directly at events. We over came far more then the IE’s, including a campaign manager turnover, a 5 month campaign time disadvantage, many elected officials endorsing our opponent before we declared, and the opponent having a $22,000 head start in direct fundraising. I’d say we deserve some credit as well.

    • Don’t get me wrong, your point is valid. The resistance to Trump is ready. Conservatives aren’t particularly happy with their party right now and less inclined to vote. It helped our cause. But I think we helped ourselves a lot too.

    • Of course you deserve a lot of credit — that was a terrific effort. I just hope folks don’t assume that the next few election cycles will have the same feel to them.

  3. I have to disagree with your thesis. I believe Mr. Balsley lost the campaign because his opponent was more informed, more experienced, more articulate on the issues important to the voters, and ran the stronger
    campaign. If the so-called Trump effect had any impact on this race, it may be that the voters were clear that they did not want a candidate that in any way resembled Trump’s blustery negative style.

  4. Balsley probably lost because Cox ran a better campaign, offered a better vision, and knocked on more doors. Our Fishburn team ran an awesome campaign, kept it on the issues, organized dozens if not hundreds of volunteers, knocked on thousands of doors, made thousands of calls, held over a dozen house parties, and nearly raised as much as the opponent from small donors and without the support of many so-called Democrat leaders. The Trump effect may have had some impact, but more likely, it was the moderate democrats not realizing that McGregor was a Republican posing as an “environmentalist.”

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