Politics & Government

Primary election won’t matter in many races – but donors are still watching closely

A voter returns a ballot to a drop box at the Thurston County Courthouse in 2015. For Tuesday’s primary election, voters can return their ballots in the mail or by using official drop boxes, which are open until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
A voter returns a ballot to a drop box at the Thurston County Courthouse in 2015. For Tuesday’s primary election, voters can return their ballots in the mail or by using official drop boxes, which are open until 8 p.m. on Election Day. 2015 file photo

In dozens of two-way races in Washington state, Tuesday’s primary election won’t decide anything.

Yet the races still will be closely watched by Republicans and Democrats, in part to determine where the parties should focus their resources as they fight for control of the state Legislature this year.

“It’s a strong measure of enthusiasm — I think that’s the best measure to be taken out of it,” said Kevin Carns, the executive director of the House Republican Organizational Committee, about Tuesday’s top-two primary.

“It allows people to focus on the races that are really in play.”

In races with three or more candidates, the primary will determine which two of them will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

But plenty of two-way races will still appear on the ballot, even though those candidates are guaranteed to make it through to November.

For those candidates, the primary will serve mainly as a test of where they stand with voters.

In key matchups, Republicans are looking for candidates that win at least 45 percent to 47 percent of the vote, “if not over 50” percent, Carns said. That signals that a race is competitive and worth fighting for, he said.

“If you’re 12 points down, the chances of coming back in the general are very slim,” he said. “If you’re four or five (points behind), that can be made up.”

Democrats, too, are looking to see which sitting lawmakers perform poorly to guide their campaign strategy in the coming months, said state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien and chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

“Definitely one of the things we are going to be looking for is weakness in incumbents, both on the Republican and the Democratic side,” Fitzgibbon said. “If an incumbent is under 50 percent, that makes it a target for us, certainly.”

At the same time, Fitzgibbon said he expects Democratic candidates to perform a few points better in the November general election than they do in Tuesday’s primary.

That’s a solid bet based on past presidential election years, said long-time independent pollster Stuart Elway, who conducts regular polls of Washington voters.

Voters who sit out the primary but show up for the general election in Washington state are “historically more likely to be Democratic,” Elway said.

Elway said campaigns should be careful about placing too much stock in the primary, though, as a great deal can happen on the campaign trail between August and November.

“The sun is going to rise and set many times before we vote,” Elway said.

While the primary “can be kind of an indicator, it certainly is not an iron-clad predictor of what is going to happen,” he added.

Right now, Democrats have a two-seat majority in the state House, while Republicans control the state Senate.

Republicans are looking to gain control of the House this year, while Democrats hope to reinstall a Democratic Senate majority.

YOUR BALLOTS

Primary election ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday to be counted.

Alternatively, voters can return their ballots by 8 p.m. on election day to a ballot drop box or an election center.

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