Dems again outpacing Republicans in county
September 6, 2008 · Updated 9:24 AM
With the final votes in the primary now counted, there are strong hints that Democrats may be in for another big showing come November.
Island County finalized its election results on Wednesday, and more Democrats cast ballots on Aug. 19 than Republicans in what has traditionally been a right-leaning county.
With the most recent win, Democrats have now beaten Republicans in turnout in the past three major elections dating back to the 2006 general election.
Finance records also show Democrats have an advantage in fundraising — both at the central committee level and the total amount given to all candidates in Island County — and have more money left on hand to spend on the general election.
What’s more, a precinct-by-precinct review of voter registration between the 2006 and 2008 primaries show hundreds of voters have registered in precincts that lean left above those who have registered to vote in historically right-leaning precincts.
Republican Phil Bakke, an incumbent commissioner who squeezed his way onto the November ballot by just 52 votes, said he still remains hopeful that Republicans will rebound before November.
Bakke said his tight race for the District 1 position on the board of commissioners was largely due to the independent nature of Island County voters. No-party candidate Curt Gordon picked up 19 percent of the vote to Bakke’s 20 percent, while Republican Reece Rose came in fourth with 14 percent. Democrat Helen Price Johnson won the primary with more than twice the number of votes than Bakke received.
“There are certainly core voters on both sides,” Bakke said. “But Island County voters have had a history of a certain amount of independence.”
As an example, he cited Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, the Camano Island Democrat who won the three-way primary battle for the 10th District. Haugen picked up 53 percent of the vote across the district, and won every precinct on Camano Island as well as every precinct from Penn Cove to the South End of Whidbey. Republican Linda Haddon came in second in the Senate race with 42 percent.
“I think Mary Margaret has drawn on that strength over the years; I think [Congressman] Jack Metcalf drew on that over the years, too.”
The reasons for his close finish may go beyond party, Bakke said.
“I think we’re dealing with a more informed and educated electorate than perhaps other places in the state,” he said. “Look at how active people are in our community. There’s a real engaged electorate here. It’s that very spirit that made it fun to be a planning director here.”
Bakke won three precincts outright in the District 1 race, while Price Johnson won the rest, including picking up the majority of votes in the Coupeville 1, Coupeville 2, Saratoga, Lone Lake, Maxwelton, Sandy Point, Langley 1 and Langley 2 precincts.
“I’m really pleased with the results; it was what we had hoped for,” Price Johnson said. “I think it provides some good momentum for our campaign as we go toward the general election.”
“I think generally, on the national level, Democrats are energized. At the local level it’s the independents that determine the race; voters that I’m going to be reaching out to,” she added.
Countywide turnout for the Aug. 19 primary was roughly 57.9 percent.
A review of precinct returns by The Record, however, shows Democrats had an edge throughout the county in turnout.
In Island County, 37 precincts out of 65 on Whidbey and Camano islands historically have leaned to the right. Most lie north of Penn Cove, and on the northern end of Camano Island.
In the primary, just nine of those 37 historically Republican precincts had a turnout of 57 percent or more.
For the other side, Central and South Whidbey have traditionally voted for Democrats. The Democrats can count 18 precincts that have historically leaned left.
In the primary, 17 of those 18 precincts had a turnout of 57 percent or more.
Traditionally Republican-leaning precincts in Island County are those where a majority has voted for the GOP candidate for president in 2000, 2004 and Dino Rossi for governor in 2004. Likewise there are 18 precincts that have voted for the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2000, 2004 and Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2004.
Across all precincts, the greatest turnout was in traditionally left-leaning precincts; Greenbank, Admiralty and Coveland had a turnout rate of 70 percent or more.
And the precincts of Austin, Clinton, Deer Lake, Freeland, Lagoon Point, Sandy Point, Saratoga, Useless Bay, Possession, Coupeville 1 and 2, Langley 1 and 2 had turnout of 60 percent or more.
The highest turnout in Republican-leaning districts was in Scenic Heights, with 63 percent turnout, and Polnell, with 64.
Turnout in Oak Harbor itself lagged below the countywide average in the primary. Just two precincts, Oak Harbor 1 and Oak Harbor 8, had a turnout better than the countywide average.
A review of voter registration records show Democrats have made gains over Republicans in the numbers of voters in their home precincts.
In the 37 Republican precincts, the number of registered voters has dropped from the September 2006 primary to the September 2008 primary in 18 precincts, while the number of registered voters in other Republican-leaning precincts has risen in 19. Balancing the losses of voters versus the gain in new registrations, there are 19 new voters within the 37 Republican precincts.
For the Democrats, the amount of registered voters has risen in 15 of their 18 precincts, but has declined in four.
But overall, the number of voters within those 18 Democrat precincts has risen by 359 voters.
Marshall Goldberg, chairman of the Island County Democrats, did not want to draw conclusions about what the gains in voter registration may mean for the November election. The District 1 commissioner’s race is expected to be the focus of much attention, as Democrats are poised to take a majority of the three-member board for the first time in history.
Even so, Goldberg said he likes what he sees in the upcoming election.
“I think Democrats have more motivation to participate in the primary and the upcoming general election. There are also more independents and Republicans who are dissatisfied with the status quo and will cross over and vote for Democratic candidates this year,” Goldberg said. “Consequently, I think the numbers countywide will reflect more overall Democratic votes in November.”
One last advantage: Democrats currently lead in the money race heading into the November election. In county and District 10 races, Democrats have raised $427,319 and spent $250,037.
Republicans have raised $328,803 and have spent $183,153, according to campaign finance records on file with the state.
The Island County Republican Central Committee has raised $31,892 for the 2008 election, and spent $24,882 so far.
The Island County Democratic Central Committee has brought in more, though, and used less; it has raised $33,313, and spent $19,423.
“We just have really strong candidates. Even at the state level, we’ve got some great candidates out there. I think the money reflects that,” said Price Johnson.
Bakke said things may eventually swing the way of the GOP. Republican turnout has been low since the 2006 primary, but that will change, he said. Republicans are energized, especially after this week’s national convention and the nomination of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential choice.
Bakke said he had just attended a Republican women’s luncheon that had a huge crowd — 50 or 60 people — one of the biggest he’d seen in years.
“There was so much cheering and hooting and hollering for the national ticket. The excitement for the VP nominee was huge. Huge.
“The governor’s race is going, too. Look at how tight the numbers are between Rossi and Gregoire.
“I think the country is going to have record turnout and I think both parties will have a record turnout,” Bakke said.
“I think this is going to be quite a year. I’m jazzed,” he said.