For politicos watching the results over the last week, it might have been a bit stupefying to see Whatcom County elect four unapologetically progressive candidates to the Whatcom County Council, while the Democratic candidates for Port of Bellingham barely scraped by, (incumbent Mike McAuley), or came up short (tragically, Renata Kowalczyk). Why did the Democratic candidates for port have such a tough time?
It is always difficult to speculate on election results, because the numbers never explain exactly what goes on between the ears of every voter. You can form a hypothesis and look for facts to confirm or disprove your hypothesis, but in the end, like most social science, it is educated guesswork. I’ll present my theories and support for them here, but feel free to discuss or disprove my theories in the comments below.
One factor in the results is the disportionate level of third party engagement. The coal-funded PAC, SAVEWhatcom, pushed a slate of six candidates (port and county) while Washington Conservation Voters (WCV) only did expenditures on behalf of the county candidates. Considering that the County Council members will be the ones with the legal authority to approve or stop the proposed facility at Cherry Point, it seemed like a strategic decision on the side of WCV to just focus on the council.
Similarly, there was much less media coverage of the port races, which lends support to incumbents and those with common sounding names. The Stranger made the case a few years back that if a candidate has an Anglo-Saxon name and they are going up against someone with a more ethnic sounding name, the Anglo-Saxon name does very well. Ken Bell and Dan Robbins are easy-to-remember, all-American names, while McAuley and Kowalcyzk are little more challenging.
However, the end result is that many, many Democrats voted for the County Council candidates and then stopped voting, or voted for the conservative in the port races. Above is a map showing the dropoff.
What is this terrifying tapestry? The blue area is where the left-leaning port candidates did better than the left leaning council candidates. Red is where the port candidates did worse than the county candidates. Here is what jumps out at me:
Renata and McAuley did very well in Lynden compared to the conservative port candidates. This means several conservative voters supported them.
The progressive port candidates did not do very well in Sudden Valley or Lummi Island.
Putting these together, it looks like Renata and McAuley had cross-partisan appeal . . . and that’s what hurt them. This was a base election, the people who turned out to vote wanted to vote for their people, but McAuley and Renata put up a conservative front which gained them a few votes in Lynden but lost them gobs of votes in Sudden Valley, as well as around WWU. While their strategy might have been very successful in a high turnout election where the independents vote in droves, this year, it did not work.