Candidates regroup for campaign's last leg after primary

Tuesday's results scrutinized for any guidance on general election

By Stevie Mathieu and Stephanie Rice

Published:

 
photoElections officer Josie Karling, center, sorts ballots Tuesday at the Clark County Elections Office in Vancouver. The results are now in from Washington's top two primary election, and the general election is Nov. 6.

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photoElection workers inspect ballots on Tuesday at the Clark County Elections Office in Vancouver. Ballots were fed into the vote-counting system once they were received, but the results weren't tabulated until Tuesday evening.

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photoElection officers including Wendy Wimer, top, run the machine for sorting ballots at the Clark County Elections Office in Vancouver on Tuesday. The primary brought in a lower than expected voter turnout of roughly 30 percent.

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Tuesday's top two primary has come and gone, leaving candidates and political enthusiasts to sift through the results and discuss any takeaway lessons learned.

Will Democratic voters help re-elect Republican County Commissioner Marc Boldt over primary winner David Madore, another Republican? And how tight will the state Senate race be in the 17th District?

In perhaps the most competitive legislative race in Clark County this season, incumbent Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, leads his lone challenger, Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, by four percentage points. It's the closest a challenger has come to Benton in recent memory during a primary election.

In 2008 and in 2000, Benton had a lead of nine percentage points over his challenger after the primary. In 2004, Benton ran unopposed. He was elected to his first four-year Senate term in 1996.

Following the primary election on Tuesday, Benton posted on his Facebook page: "I am so proud of our team for overcoming all of those negative attacks and still coming out on top yesterday during the first wave of primary votes."

Benton was alluding to recent negative mail pieces about him sent out by a Democratic group, Working Families for the 17th District. The amount of mud slung in the race so far is another telltale sign of a political nail-biter.

Meanwhile, Probst pointed out that in his past two elections, he's been able to emerge victoriously in the November contests after earning less than 50 percent of the primary vote. This year, Probst had 47.84 percent of the primary vote and Benton had 51.92 percent, as of Friday's tally.

"We are in even better shape than we were hoping to be at this point in the race," Probst said in an email to his supporters following the release of Tuesday night's preliminary results. "Our opponent spent more than $100,000 and ran at least seven negative ads."

In 2008, Probst ran against two Republicans in the primary and pulled in 48 percent of the vote. In 2010, he was challenged by Republican Brian Peck, and Probst won the general election even though he fell behind Peck by six percentage points in the primary.

There is a significant caveat to trying to predict general election outcomes using primary election results, says Clark County Elections Supervisor Tim Likness. About 30 percent of the county's registered voters turned in a ballot for Tuesday's primary, but general elections during a year with a presidential race can get more than 80 percent of the county's voters to cast their ballots.

Madore, Boldt contest

The decision by the executive board of the Clark County Republican Party to discipline Commissioner Boldt cleared the way for wealthy party donor Madore to run for Boldt's District 2 seat.

The two Republicans will face off countywide in the Nov. 6 general election. Democrat Roman Battan finished third in the primary, and Pat Campbell, who ran as an independent, finished fourth. In Tuesday's primary, the vote was limited only to those in District 2.

The GOP executive board's decision to discipline Boldt -- which included cutting off donations and his access to the party's mailing list -- has been upsetting for some members of the party.

Two executive board members, Nelson Holmberg and Troy Van Dinter, quit over the decision. Former party chairman Brent Boger cited the treatment of Boldt as one reason he was done with being a party leader. Boger, a Vancouver assistant city attorney, was appointed in July to the Washougal City Council.

Boger said he didn't think the executive board members really understood that Boldt has obligations outside of the Republican Party.

So while some Republicans remain loyal to Boldt, what will Democrats do when their choices are limited to two Republicans?

Will they vote for Boldt, who has established himself as a moderate and who got in trouble with party leaders for working with Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat? Will they vote for Boldt just as a vote against Madore, best known as a critic of the Columbia River Crossing?

Democrat Betty Sue Morris, who served three terms as a county commissioner before deciding not to seek re-election in 2008, has been actively encouraging Democrats to support Boldt.

"I am certain (Democrats) will not vote for David Madore," she said. She said Democrats will see Madore as a single-issue candidate who won't compromise.

Over the years, Morris said, Boldt has shown himself willing to work out compromises.

Some Democrats may still think of Boldt from his five terms as a 17th District state representative, when he was on the far right among state lawmakers.

"I know in some respects, that's a problem," Morris said.

But, she said, "Most of the voters are not on the far left or the far right. There's that huge majority in the middle, and those are the people who vote more for the man than for the party."

Democrats who don't just skip over the race because there's no "D" on the ballot may just vote for what they see as the lesser of two evils, Morris said.

In the other county commissioner race, incumbent Tom Mielke will face Democrat Joe Tanner. Mielke, a Republican, beat Democrat Pam Brokaw in 2008 by 207 votes in the general election.

Legislative race results

If November's general election results mimic the primary results, the 49th District would remain blue, the 18th District would remain red, and the 17th District would continue to have some political diversity in its representation. Legislative district boundaries were adjusted this year following the 2010 Census.

In all three legislative races in the 18th District, Republicans appeared to be more popular than Democrats. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, received more than 63 percent of the primary vote in her attempt to retain the seat she was appointed to in June. Her Democratic opponent, Ralph Schmidt, received more than 36 percent of the vote. Both will advance to the general election.

The 18th District, which has a history of Republican legislative leadership, includes Felida, Ridgefield, La Center, part of Battle Ground, Yacolt, Camas and Washougal. In the House races in the 18th, Republican Brandon Vick is uncontested for one seat and Republican Liz Pike, R-Camas, received 61 percent of the primary vote for the other.

In all three legislative races in the 49th District, the Democratic candidates in a traditionally left-leaning district had hefty leads over their Republican opponents. All of those races had only two candidates, so the primary did not eliminate anyone.

In the 49th, incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Moeller received more than 56 percent of the primary vote; his Republican challenger, Carolyn Crain, received nearly 43 percent. Incumbent Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, had nearly 57 percent of the primary vote while her Republican challenger, Debbie Peterson received more than 42 percent.

In the open 49th District race to replace outgoing Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, Democrat Annette Cleveland received 56 percent of the vote and Republican Eileen Qutub got 43 percent. The 49th District includes all of Vancouver west of Interstate 205, as well as Hazel Dell and the county's Andresen/St. Johns neighborhood.

The 17th District, which is currently represented by two Republican legislators and one Democratic legislator, could continue to have politically mixed representation after November.

Incumbent Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, received more than 57 percent of the vote in the primary against his challenger, Democrat Jim Gizzi, who received more than 42 percent. The Benton-Probst Senate race is about 850 votes apart.

In the open race to replace Probst in the House, Democrat Monica Stonier pulled in more than 45 percent of the primary vote while Republican Julie Olson received more than 42 percent. Roughly 600 votes separated Olson and Stonier as of Friday's count.

The 17th District is a middle portion of the county, east of Interstates 205 and 5, from southern Battle Ground down to the Columbia River.

In the 20th District, which bleeds into northern parts of Clark County, no Democrats ran in legislative races. Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, who now lives in the 20th District rather than the 18th, received more primary votes than his Republican rival, John Morgan.

In the 14th District, which includes an eastern bit of Clark County, Republicans also had a better primary showing. Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, is running unopposed while Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, got more primary votes than his Democratic challenger, Mathew Tomaskin; Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, received more primary votes than his Democratic challenger, Paul Spencer.