In the wake of the Republican victory in the 42nd, many local political analysts are reevaluating the 42nd – mentally moving it from “Leans Republican” to “Washington’s personal Kentucky”. I, however, don’t believe it to be irredeemable – just as I believe the 40th district (aka “Washington’s Northern California” ) may some day become competitive. It is easy to believe that these districts are giant immovable blocks of voters who vote straight ticket – but that’s just not true.
To illustrate this point, I am comparing the number of people who voted for Sen. Doug Ericksen for state senate versus the people who voted for Pedro Celis for Congress. In terms of politics, Ericksen and Celis are nearly identical and their districts almost completely overlap (the 1st Congressional District is the 42nd minus anything in Bellingham). So why did Ericksen receive 3,824 more votes in those precincts?
Which precincts? I’m so glad you asked.
You can click the picture for a larger view. Orange precincts are where Ericksen received at least 60 votes more than Celis, Red precincts are where he received more than 70 votes and Deep Red is where he received more than 100 votes. Just to reinforce, the colored areas are where people voted for Doug Ericksen AND Suzan DelBene.
Before I dive into the analysis, let’s look at the inverse. Where did Seth Fleetwood get more votes than Rep. Suzan DelBene? Not as many places but there are definitely a few. On a whole, DelBene received 9,054 votes more than Fleetwood in the precincts they share – but not evenly.
Similar to the Ericksen comparison, the light blue is for areas where Fleetwood received 40-60 more votes than DelBene, blue is where he received 100-200 votes more and out on Lummi Island, he received 262 votes more than DelBene.
What does this tell us? On the surface, there are over 12,000 voters in the 42nd who did not vote a straight ticket in 2014 – a heavily partisan year. That’s encouraging!
Digging a little deeper – it is clear that Seth Fleetwood’s long years of work with the Lummi Nation, as both a city and county councilman, paid dividends as did his relationships with those on Lummi Island and in Point Roberts. Conversely, Doug Ericksen picked up some DelBene voters around his hometown of Ferndale.
Clearly Ferndale, Birch Bay and Blaine remain our swing states for North Whatcom – those communities are chock full of ticket splitters. Unfortunately, this year did not give us any insight into Bellingham, with all the action focused north.
One more thing to consider when looking at places where Ericksen did better than Pedro Celis. Celis faced some serious difficulties gaining support within his party – some of which can be attributed to his race. In the primary, the Republicans nearly selected a virtual nobody over their anointed nominee, and I believe that this was because Celis is a Latino.
Did Ericksen do better than Celis because of his race? Whatcom County has a deep history of racism. In 1925, the Klu Klux Klan held one of the largest recorded rallies in Washington State history at the Lynden fairgrounds – with 12,000-25,000 attendees.
To put that in perspective, the current population of Lynden is around 12,000 people. Add to that the expulsion of the Sikh community in 1907 and the Chinese Expulsion of 1885 and you have a history of xenophobia.
I can already hear Wayne Farber contesting that this was generations ago. Does it really have an impact on an election in 2014? Well, yes. After all, Luanne Van Werven mentioned at almost every campaign speech that her family had been here for four generations, putting them squarely in the middle of that time period. In 2011, when Steve Oliver, a member of the Lummi nation, was running for County Treasurer, he was subject to racists anonymous threats.
Did racial backlash impact Pedro Celis’ votes or did Rep Suzan DelBene’s impressive work as a representative peel off some conservative voters? It is impossible to tell for sure but either way, the 42nd is not as impervious as the election results would imply.