Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Swing Voters in North Kitsap’s 23rd Looking for Change

It might be easy to ignore the primary race in North Kitsap County’s 23rd Legislative District. People like to think things are peaceful and quiet on this side of the water. Unlike the megatropolis, there was no spirited contention or angst between conservative candidates and the Democratic incumbents had no challengers. There were no surprises in who would advance to the general. The voting result; however, did reflect some interesting detail that suggests incumbent Democrats may be more vulnerable than they think. And if independent and conservative supporters are paying attention, it won’t be so quiet and peaceful over here much longer. Republican challengers should take quick advantage if they want to keep momentum.

In the 2010 primary, incumbent Sherry Appleton (D) took in 54% of the vote against challenger Pete DeBoer’s (R) 46%. Appleton won the 2008 race with 62% majority, sliding 8% off the general election. Christine Rolfes (D) has a similar story, winning in 2008 with 61% and only earning 56% in the 2010 primary against a split 44% between challengers James Olsen’s (R) 33% and Aaron Winters’ (R) 11%. This is another slide of 5% from the general election, making her glass half empty. It might be arguable that a 5-8% drift is negligible but also consider it was a direct gain to challengers, reducing the overall spread from close to 25% to a distinctly competitive 12%. Considering the quiet campaign thus far, this is noteworthy.

If you further consider Senator Phil Rockefeller’s (D) 2008 win was only 62%, you can see that overall support for Democratic candidates didn’t have much variance (61.94; 61.04; and 61.90). This suggests that swing voters weren’t quibbling much in their leftward lean, probably due to the anti-Bush pro-Obama hope for positive change that swept the state (did that happen?). But don’t let the pundits fool you. 61% wasn’t a landslide. 61% is roughly a 3 out of 5 ratio. We play games for winning 3 out of 5 when we know it can go either way. A landslide is more like 3 out of 4 or 4 out of 5 (75-80%) where the winner simply masters the outcome. Democrats won in 2008 by a majority but not a landslide and the 2010 primary results show that majority is slipping in the 23rd District just like everywhere else in the state. Swing voters are concerned.

In the 2010 general, Sherry Appleton and Christine Rolfes may likely retain the loyal blue, but independents and financial conservatives are sending strong signals right. The gap that conservatives need to close is getting smaller. Tea Party organizations are popping up with increasing numbers. Moderate and independent swing voters are looking for a change that Republicans have an opportunity to deliver. The race for Washington’s 23rd Legislative District looks like a microcosm of and could be just as competitive as the Murray-Rossi Senate fight but without the news coverage. Challengers DeBoer and Olsen have clear opportunities if they can muster adequate campaign support.

November is coming.

Photos: top left to right; James Olsen with wife at side and Pete DeBoer address Kitsap Patriot's Tea Party event in Silverdale, WA.

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