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Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Nov. 29, 2023

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Jayne: Wave locally was for incumbents

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

Warning: There will be math involved. Or at least a lot of numbers.

When analyzing elections, there are bound to be percentages. And addition. And subtraction. So, with election results in Washington scheduled to be certified on Tuesday, it is time to break out the calculator.

The numbers indicate that, like much of the country, Clark County was more red this year than it was four years ago — with the notable exception of Donald Trump.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Clark County by 316 votes — or 0.15 percent. But this year, Joe Biden won the county by 5 percentage points, or about 14,000 votes. Biden’s advantage was even stronger than in the national vote, where he holds an advantage of 3.8 percentage points.

But it is in down-ballot races where the numbers are particularly revealing. Because the blue wave that was expected to accompany a dislike for Trump turned out to be a trickle.

Take Jaime Herrera Beutler in the second-most prominent race on the Clark County ballot. In being elected to Congress for the sixth time, Herrera Beutler increased her margin in the 3rd Congressional District’s largest county.

Atypically for congressional races, apples-to-apples comparisons can be made because the candidates were the same as in 2018. But after winning Clark County (yet losing the election) in 2018, Carolyn Long lost the county by 4.7 percentage points this time around.

When master’s candidates unpack the 2020 election for their theses, Washington’s 3rd District might be a good case study.

Long made a campaign issue of Herrera Beutler’s support for Trump — support Herrera Beutler had withheld four years ago — and Clark County turned against Trump this time around. But it didn’t hurt Herrera Beutler. Sometimes the calculations defy logic.

Four years ago, Herrera Beutler said she could not support Trump and his misogyny because she wouldn’t be able to explain it to her daughter. This time, she made a political calculation to support Trump, and it worked. But I wish her luck in explaining it to her children.

The Trump conundrum permeates election results throughout Clark County.

Despite a Trump backlash, Republicans held six of the nine legislative positions from the 17th, 18th and 49th districts — which combine to cover most of the county. Overall, in the eight races between a Republican and a Democrat, the Rs received 50.9 percent of the vote — a slim advantage but enough to keep the Southwest Washington delegation red.

Vicki Kraft defeated Tanisha Harris by 1.18 percentage points for a representative position in the 17th District, after defeating Harris by 1.46 percentage points in 2018. Republicans won both county council races. And Republicans uniformly fared better in statewide races than they did in the state as a whole.

That’s probably predictable, considering that statewide support for Republicans routinely gets overrun by the deep blue Puget Sound region. But it represents the fizzling of the blue wave, and it demonstrates that anti-Trump sentiment where it existed did not necessarily extend to down-ballot races.

Also worth mentioning is that a write-in campaign by former county commissioner Tom Mielke, designed to split the vote and unseat a fellow Republican in the Legislature, fell short by a laughable margin. The hope is that Mielke and his patron, David Madore, will get the message that Clark County has moved on from their politics of division.

This was a historic election, with record numbers of voters and high numbers of new voters. But in Clark County, at least, the more that things changed the more they stayed the same. Ten incumbents were on the ballot in local races, and all 10 were victorious. The appetite for change — except in the White House — was vastly overstated.

But for those seeking change, there still was a triumph. In Clark County, voter turnout was 85 percent, after coming in at 77 percent and 80 percent in the previous two presidential years. And the math tells us that is a victory.

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