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Looking over the raw numbers from the Washington 5th might disappoint progressives.  As of 9:16:56 AM PDT Wednesday, Peter Goldmark trailed Cathy McMorris 34,185 to 46,340.  Goldmark didn't even win Spokane County, the largest, and one of the most attainable, targets in the district.

Of course, the neocons aren't looking any deeper than that.

We, however, know better. Goldmark and McMorris weren't competing directly, so a closer look is necessary. When you drill down to see what happened at the local level, take the downballot races into account, and a look at a little bit of 5th district history, a different picture forms. (Intro edited for clarity!)

Blanket Primary

Washington voters are just now getting used to pick-a-party ballots.  For decades, Washington had a blanket primary, and voters could choose their favorite candidate regardless of party.  With this system, it was fairly easy to see how each candidate was doing because they weren't linked to any other race.

The blanket primary was found to be unconstitutional.  Since the State of Washington does not register people by party, county elections offices must send a Democratic, Republican, and "Nonpartisan" ballot to each voter, and the voter decides which to send back.  Voters may only pick one, and which they pick is never recorded.

Voters can instantly change parties, and instantly change back.  Consequently, it's difficult to draw conclusions about the progress that a candidate is making based on the raw numbers.

Republican primaries

This disconnect, and the misperceptions which will follow, will certainly make Cathy McMorris happy.  In many areas of the district, which consists of Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman, and part of Adams counties (map), Republican primaries in down-ballot races drove participation on ballots which included McMorris' name.

In Stevens County, there was a contested County Prosecutor race in which a challenger, Tim Rasmussen, turned out the incumbent, Jerry Wetle.  Meanwhile, there was no Democratic challenger.

In Spokane County, there was a heated race between Ozzie Knezovich and Cal Walker for Spokane County Sheriff.  Since there was no recognized Democratic opponent in the Sheriff race (James Flavel did not campaign, and the Spokane County Democrats had never heard of him before), the winner of the Republican primary likely determined the winner in the general, raising its profile and importance.  Consequently, the magnitude of this race likely convinced many Democrats to send in the Republican ballot.  Indeed, some prominent Democratic Party members made it clear (in writing, even) that they intended to change ballots for this primary.

In Whitman, Garfield, Asotin, and Columbia counties (and parts of Spokane and Franklin counties), there was a hotly contested four-way race for the 9th legislative district Republican nomination for the state House.  Meanwhile, Democrat Caitlin Ross was unopposed.

Again and again, if voters wanted to have an effect in the primary, they had to choose the Republican ballot.  With this background, it's clear that the raw numbers are worthless without some interpretation.  Obviously, a neocon playground.

Primary Ballot Effect

What we do know is how many Republican and Democratic ballots were returned (except for Asotin County, at the time of analysis).  For example, in Spokane County, 26,902 Democratic ballots and 35,055 Republican ballots were returned as of the evening of the vote.  This lopsidedness could be partially explained by the Sheriff's race.  And if you dig deeper you find that on those ballots, you'd see that Goldmark received 24,118 votes, and McMorris received 28,834.

(All data were derived from election night returns.  Washington allows people to vote as long as their ballot is postmarked by Election Day.  Returns will continue to roll in for several days.  They can be found at

While a certain number of undervotes is understood (after all, both candidates are unopposed), 17.7% of the people who voted on Republican ballots refused to vote for McMorris, whereas Goldmark's undervote percentage was only 10.3%.  In order to presume that the undervote (as opposed to "refuse to vote") ratio was the same, you'd also have to presume that there is about 2,600 votes missing from Goldmark's total, making Spokane County a horserace (48-52 McMorris).  The importance of the Spokane vote is great, as about twice as many ballots were returned in Spokane County than in all other counties combined.

And that's without significant coverage by the mainstream media.

Undervote Shift

The undervote shift in each county is telling.  The "undervote shift" is the percentage of undervotes McMorris had divided by the percentage of undervotes Goldmark had, expressed as a percentage above or below 1.  In other words, if Goldmark experienced a 10% undervote rate, and McMorris experienced a 15% undervote rate, then the "undervote shift" is equal to 15%/10% = 1.5 = +50% above 1.  

In Spokane County, it's +71.5%.  Whitman is +87.6%, Lincoln is +49.2%.  The undervote shift was in Goldmark's favor in 7 of the 10 counties analyzed.  89% of the ballots were cast in those seven counties.  Over all of the counties analyzed, the shift was +54.6%.

What happens when there aren't any downballot races which distort the ballot selection process?  There were no primary races in Okanogan County, and Goldmark won 1737 to 1557. (53-47 Goldmark.)  For context, Okanogan County isn't well known as a progressive bastion.  They just know a good thing when they see it.

Historical Context

This must be worrisome in the backrooms of neocon headquarters.  While this undervote shift is clearly working in Goldmark's best interest (and makes it appear that he's not doing as well as he actually is), Goldmark won over 42% of the vote, a couple of percentage points ahead of where Democrat Don Barbieri was against Cathy McMorris two years ago at the general election.

So, between being ahead of where Barbieri was two years ago, even with the undervote shift making Goldmark look weaker than he is, and the fact that McMorris wasn't an incumbent last time, Goldmark is clearly hitting a nerve in eastern Washington.

Cathy McMorris:  the voters are giving you notice.

Originally posted to sowinso on Thu Sep 21, 2006 at 10:41 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    Neocons prefer it if we don’t analyze things too much, that way they can ensure that their reality distorting frames aren’t challenged.  While they congratulate themselves in public, they are preparing the same nasty campaigning because they know they’re in the fight of their lives.

    By the way, I used her “official” ballot name in this diary.  Her name is McMorris Rodgers now, apparently.  Perhaps she thinks that people in her district wouldn’t know who she is if she called herself Rodgers, and they wouldn’t respect her if she used a hyphenated name.

    Either way, it doesn’t show much respect for her constituents.

    You can help send her back to the farm by contributing to the Goldmark campaign!

    Take back Speaker Foley's district! Support Peter Goldmark!

    by sowinso on Thu Sep 21, 2006 at 10:42:16 AM PDT

  •  I don't get it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    What do you mean by Goldmark "trailing" McMorris? They weren't running against each other. Am I missing something? Wasn't this a primary?

    Are you suggesting that it actually means something that Goldmark got fewer votes in his primary than McMorris got in hers? If so, that's pretty silly. We know there are more Republicans than Democrats in WA-5. For Goldmark to win, he's got to get some of the Repubs, and there's no indication one way or the other whether he can do that.

    Unless I'm missing your point entirely.

    •  A primary, but (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      IsraelHand, sowinso

      So they were not competing directly against each other, but because a voter can choose which ballot to take (Rep or Dem), the point is that competitive local races would drive that choice.  Then it would not matter if the person voted for the congressperson, but if they did not like McMorris or Goldmark they could choose not to vote.  Some, of course, would not bother whether or not they liked them.  And then, of course, the turnout is mostly likely lower then it will be in November.

      So, we'll have to see.

    •  Welcome to WA politics (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      IsraelHand, melvin

      Because of the long standing blanket primary there are some weird views of primary elections in Washington.

      Any place else the primary results would be basically a non-issue, but given our history in Washington they have to mean something, right?

      Also, it doesn't help that there aren't any polls of the race. The primary is as close as we have gotten recently.

      •  Haven't seen much on (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the ballot itself. I know some people were unhappy and confused. I don't see how constantly changing around the last few years has helped anything.

        •  Consolidated Ballots (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          7 of the 12 counties in the 5th CD have consolidated ballots, which I think are unnecessarily confusing. The SOS is saying he wants the Leg to change the rules so they can count the consolidated ballots if the person doesn't mark the party, but still marks only one parties candidates.

          In Whitman our elections supervisor is quoted saying that mailing the 3 ballots may not be more cost effective than opening the polls, which was one of the arguments for going all mail in the first place.

          I personally think the Leg should let the county open polling places up to two weeks before the election, and allow the counties to setup roaming polls in the rural areas. Vote by mail just doesn't work in every situation.

  •  Nice Analysis (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IsraelHand, fuzzex, Tailspinterry, sowinso

    I was looking at these results myself yesterday, but I didn't dig into it as you have.  I noticed the "win" for Goldmark in Okanogan and the "loss" in Spokane.  He's from Okanogan, so that would probably help.  But your point on the down ballot races is important.  The US Senate primaries were not realistically contested and there was no other statewide partisan race. So, down ballot races would indeed drive the choice of ballot.  The fact that Goldmark had a much lower undervote is significant.  Will it be enough?  An of course he has 1.5 months to continue to make the connection with voters.  This is an exciting piece of news.

    Goldmark was in Seattle last night for a fundraiser.  I was not there.  He'll be back October 23rd at Jon Shirley's house in Medina (the Seattle suburb where Bill Gates lives).  Shirley is a former Microsoft president and, I think, still a Microsoft board member.  He and his wife do a lot for progressive causes.  

  •  Thanks for the Great Analysis! (6+ / 0-)

    And, btw, Wendy Goldmark called last night looking for $ (sent off $50) - she said they were OK with the numbers and attributed them to the Sherriff's race (Ferry Cty had much of the same thing - 50 Republicans running against 1 Democrat), so the numbers aren't telling.  She also said the Goldmark campaign needs to be on-air every day until the election, so if you can kick a few bucks their way, please do so - every little bit helps, and the majority of his money has come from you and me.

  •  Excellent analysis. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IsraelHand, fuzzex, sowinso

    Spokane's Sheriff race very clearly played a big role, as Goldmark anticipated it would. Just to clarify, when you say twice as many votes were returned in Spokane as the outher counties combined, that is not so odd in that it constitutes 60-65% of the electorate, no?

  •  About the 9th LD (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IsraelHand, sowinso

    First: Great post! I love any discussion of under votes!

    The 9th LD race just shot up quite a bit in my mind. We had three Democrats running in the 9th two years ago and the best of them got around 40%. Caitlin and I see each other on the campaign trail from time to time and I've helped her out a bit.

    Caitlin had a remarkably good showing in a primary where the Republican ballots were very attractive. I've said before that Asotin county is the key to the 9th LD and to some degree the 5th CD. Caitlin had 1549 votes while all of the Republicans brought in 1919 votes. That kind of difference is exceptionally good.

  •  Late Update (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I don't know if anyone is still following this story, but things just got a whole lot more interesting in the 9th. There are now only 24 votes seperating the top two Republicans Steve Hailey and Joe Schmick. Hailey was expected to win (by pretty much everyone, including me). Schmick is well known in Whitman County and Spokane County, but his numbers everywhere else are below Hailey (and in most cases below Tedd Nealey).

    Also, the undervote shift for the 5th CD race in Whitman County is currently at +84.1%.

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