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!)
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.
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 vote.wa.gov/elections/PrimaryResults/.)
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.
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.
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.