Don Davis

WA-Sen: Can Murray's Math Teach Democrats a Lesson?

Filed By Don Davis | November 05, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Dino Rossi, election 2010, Patty Murray, Progressive, Senate, vote by mail

We now know the outcome, more or less, of the Washington State murray_patty.jpgUS Senate race--and it looks like it's going to be Patty Murray, D-(Actual No-Kidding Progressive), over Dino Rossi, R-(Guy Who Will Be Running Again For Something As Soon As He Can).

Murray managed to win in a State that is far more "purple" than you might think, in a vote-by-mail election that guarantees at least few days of uncertainty.

You have to do some unusual math to figure out how these elections will go, and we're going to walk through how this race got called by NBC just a couple hours ago.

So here's what we do know: if you want to win an election in Washington, you basically have to carry some combination of King (Seattle, and Washington's most populous, and liberal, county), Pierce (Tacoma, and Seattle's southern suburbs, with a significant military population), Snohomish (Everett, and Seattle's northern suburbs, also with a Navy population), Clark (Vancouver, and the northern suburbs of Portland, Oregon), Kitsap (home to a Naval Shipyard, an aircraft carrier homeport, and nuclear missile submarines), Whatcom (Bellingham, a college town and almost a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia), and Spokane (the largest in very super conservative Eastern Washington) Counties.

You also need to know that Washington is a virtually 100% vote-by-mail state and that votes in the mail with an Election Day postmark, no matter when they arrive, are valid votes.

There was an amazing amount of anti-Murray advertising, most of it in the form of secret money coming from either the US Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove's various groups; the basic themes of the ads suggested Murray caused all the unemployment and debt ever experienced in American history and couldn't wait to make things worse.

Pro-Murray ads centered on her... well, her Progressive record--and her ability to bring jobs to the state and that message was being transmitted in a State with high unemployment.

And as we'll see, all of this created exceptionally high voter turnouts, particularly for midterm elections.

Now let's do some electoral math:

We can look at the Secretary of State's handy website and see just what's arrived so far; it typically updates each day from here on out at 4:30 PM Pacific time, but there may be additional updates each day.

As of 7:30PM, November 4th, which is the most current update I have available, Murray is up by 45,000 and change with roughly 1.85 million votes counted so far.

But what we really need to know is: how many votes are there still to be counted?

The site has a county-by-county page that reports about 617,000 ballots are "on hand to be processed," but that won't include those that are still in the mail. We'll talk more about them later.

Right now the largest concentrations of "on hand" ballots are, predictably, in King (270,000), Pierce (30,000), Kitsap (29,000), Snohomish (88,000), and Spokane (65,000) Counties.

Snohomish, Kitsap, and Pierce Counties are running about 50-50 so far, and that means nothing is likely to happen in those counties that will change the outcome in any significant way, so we will put them aside for this analysis.

King County is running almost 65-35% Murray, and Spokane County is running 56-44% Rossi, so that's where we turn for the rest of our analysis.

Now what we need to know is how many votes have yet to arrive in the mail, and the way we do that is to look at potential levels of voter turnout.


It works like this: King County has almost 1.1 million registered voters, 500,000 have already been counted, and 270,000 are waiting to be counted--and that's 70% turnout, if no other votes arrive.

It's pretty rare to see 70% + turnouts in midterms, but we're already there, so let's assume turnouts of 75% and 80%. At 75% that means 55,000 more votes are coming, at 80% 110,000. Add all the uncounted votes up, assume the current 65-35 distribution of votes holds up, and that suggests her margin, at those turnout levels, would grow by some number between 211,250-247,000 votes. If no more votes arrive, her margin should grow by 189,000 votes.

Spokane County has 260,000 registered voters, with about 120,000 ballots counted and 65,000 more sitting in trays not yet counted. That's a 70.5% turnout, again, a remarkable result for a midterm, and, as we mentioned, they are voting for Rossi, 56-44%. Let's again model for 75% and 80%; we would expect 15,000 or 23,000 more in the mail from those outcomes.

I also looked at every county with more than 5000 votes left to be counted. Those that are on the east side of the State are consistently 65-35% Rossi, Western Washington counties are running more or less 50-50, but they are mostly going to Murray.

And guess what? If I'm any good at arithmetic, Spokane County doesn't have enough votes to get Rossi over the top, even if you get 80% turnout and 100% of all currently uncounted votes go for Rossi...and I think that means we can call this one for Murray by about 210,000 at 75% turnout in those two counties, minus any other result in the State, which are not going to be enough to swing the tide.

As I'm finishing this up, NBC is also calling for Murray.

So there you go, a good progressive wins with extraordinary turnouts in a year when other candidates had lots of their base stay home and despite a massive "secret money" campaign for Rossi, courtesy of Karl Rove and the US Chamber of Commerce.

And just to make it even sweeter: she ran her campaign fully embracing her record and standing up for her tough votes. She didn't pander conservative, and her progressive voter base stood up and got her over the top.

That's a message the Evan Bayhs of the world did not learn--and it's a message Members of Congress - and a certain President - ought to learn, and fast, if they want to win in 2012.

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She did not run from her record like some, and she was very good at energizing here base, especially threw face book. PS Bellingham is not nearly a suburb of Vancouver BC it, is distinctly different, but is a very liberal city, and the "major city" before you cross the border and hit vancouver. (life time resident of bellingham)

PS I personally believe that vote by mail has helped election turn out, as you get the ballot a couple weeks before election day so you usually have plenty of time to vote, and it easy to fit in around any busy schedule. That and its better then voting machines it is a paper blaot!!

Thank you for commenting that Bellingham is not a suburb of Vancouver. My experiences with Vancouver are that it is a busy very urban area, whereas Bellingham lives up to its unofficial motto: the city of subdued excitement. I am no lifetime citizen of the city (in my fifth year), but I have much love for this city.

i would refer you to my answer below: vancouver comes to bellingham, in a big way, and it does affect jobs, just to give one example, and it affect how long the lines are at the gas station some days, to offer another.

the subdued excitement is another "connection" between the two cities--and as someone who lives just a bit farther south, it appears that in many ways bellingham is closer in spirit to vancouver than puyallup is to seattle.

ever notice all those boxes and bags piled up by the trash cans out in the parking lot at bellis fair mall?

that's because vancouverites "commute" to bellingham, in great quantity, for the discount shopping--and that's had enough of an impact on the city to make it "nearly" a suburb of vancouver--but it was also a bit of a "tongue in cheek" remark, as bellingham, in many ways, is a lot more canadian than the other vancouver, just to give one example.

Rick Sutton | November 5, 2010 2:09 PM

This is fascinating stuff. Very good analysis. I'll ponder it more.

But for the record, Washington ain't Indiana. Evan Bayh couldn't be Patty Murray, or vice-versa, if either wanted to.

Although Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) is a native Hoosier.

We're everywhere. :-)

indiana is an interesting state--and there is a racial history there that is not well known to most outside observers that should be well understood.

but, you know, you can take a liberal line on a lot of issues and go sell them in indianapolis and south bend and the chicago and cincinatti suburbs...but you have to sell liberal in practical terms: this is why my policies work for you, this is how liberal policies cut government spending, and this is how liberal policies can make life better for your kids.

at the same time, you point out how your opponent is looking to enact policies that do the opposite.

murray actually did that--and i would suggest to you that bayh was philosophically disinclined to make those arguments...but then again, it's also fair to say that bayh's biggest selling point was the fact that he's named bayh, which means he never had to go out and try this kind of strategy.

Well said. Don. And, as usual, your instincts bear you out.

But what's really important in this cycle is to see this little woman who is not ashamed of her progressive values stand a lot taller than the panderers who are using "centrist" lifts in their boots....

well said, and we'll see who's afraid and who's bold as '12 gets closer.

Great points, Don. But I think we're beyond ideology here and into the space where money has just completely taken over. You and Rick both brought up Bayh, who is an apt comparison since he's taken tons and tons of money from various industries, especially the health care industry, compromising his ability to advocate for the people of his state no matter what his real beliefs are. Even if he had run and thought there was a chance of losing, he'd have to be pro-corporate to protect his future job as a lobbyist for those very interests.

It isn't always all about the money, but if we take it out of the system we might be able to see what the real cultural problems are.

well, we're not going to get the money out anytime soon...but money isn't as big an advantage as it might appear if you're good at political judo, and you can turn the "money" candidate into the one who is trying to buy a political outcome that will hurt the voter.

jerry brown and barbara boxer and harry reid were all three effective at making that case, as was murray, who ran or benefited from a ton of ads that linked rossi to his past financial misdeeds and basically asked "why would someone like that want to roll back finreg?".

we had an initiative in washington state, i-1082, that would have let private companies get in the workers' compensation business that was shut down with the same argument; california did the same with initiatives sponsored by business groups looking to gut environmental laws.

in all three cases the money was on the losing side, and voters knew what was up...and this lesson can be applied in other elections if the tactics are well applied.

Rick Sutton | November 6, 2010 3:39 PM

Alex, I long for the days of public campaign finance.

Alas, Tuesday's results pushed that even further back. This crowd LOVES Citizens United.

Their legal hero is Clarence Thomas.

Pretty pathetic. His wife is even more pathetic. If a moderate-liberal SCOTUS spouse were as political as Ginny Thomas, you'd hear Hannity and Beck screaming bloody murder.

Worse yet, every time I think of the Thomases, because of his public-hair-on-Coke-can indictment, I get an image of, uh...well, it's kinda racy. Then I have to pluck my eyes out.

I know, I know...there's something wrong with me.

i have no idea how you could look at that picture, be disturbed and upset, and not think that's a perfectly normal reaction.

i'd say there's not a thing wrong with you, and if more folks "got" that particular power couple there'd be a lot more people getting in the artificial eye business.