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Dec. 5, 2022

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Internal emails show Washington Republicans fell far short of legislative primary targets

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As primary ballots were mailed last month, state House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox laid down metrics for Republicans looking to win a majority in the chamber for the first time in more than two decades.

To have a shot this fall, Wilcox wrote in an email to supporters, GOP candidates ideally should “put the election away” by getting 55% or more in the primary. Failing that, Wilcox said, candidates “have to achieve 48% to be viable.”

When ballots were tallied in the Aug. 2 primary, Republicans fell well short of those expectations.

In a dozen state House races identified by the GOP as top pickup opportunities, none of the candidates backed by the House GOP’s campaign arm reached 48% in the primary.

Wilcox, R-Yelm, acknowledged the “suboptimal results” in a postelection email to backers, saying “It would be silly to say I didn’t have higher aspirations for election night.”

He also vented about a lack of party discipline, noting Republicans in some races filed for office at the last minute, with little preparation, and wound up siphoning off support from better candidates.

“This is the sign of an unserious party, selfish candidates and can have dire consequences for us all,” Wilcox wrote.

In addition to legislative races, Wilcox pointed to the secretary of state race, in which a glut of Republicans split the vote, leaving the GOP off the general election ballot for a position the party had held since the 1960s. (Washington’s top-two primary has the two leading candidates advance, regardless of party.)

The Wilcox campaign emails obtained by The Seattle Times, which were sent to lobbyists and donors, provide a window into the GOP’s unmet expectations in the Aug. 2 primary, when many in the party had expected to see signs of Republican momentum in a midterm election.

Wilcox, in an interview, conceded the disappointing results probably put the state House majority out of reach this year. “I think our best case scenario probably was eliminated, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to work hard,” he said.

In two races targeted by the House GOP, the totals looked more positive for the party. In both House races in the 42nd Legislative District around Bellingham, the combined GOP vote for multiple candidates was over 50%, with Democrats at around 48%.

Democrats hold a 57-41 majority over Republicans in the state House, and 28-20 in the state Senate.

Party operatives were still poring over the results, but Wilcox said the Supreme Court’s decision striking down federal abortion protections played a role.

“I think in a nutshell, Republicans turned out, Democrats turned out and independent voters who really were motivated by the Supreme Court decision turned out,” Wilcox said.

Democrats were celebrating the primary totals, but not taking the November election for granted.

“I don’t think anything is ever is a slam dunk, and we don’t look at it that way. It’s a race to the finish,” said Tina Podlodowski, chair of the state Democratic Party. “I think that the Republicans, however, spent an inordinate amount of money in the primary convinced that there was a red wave in Washington state. I don’t think there was even a red drop.”

Podlodowski agreed that recent Supreme Court decisions by the conservative court majority are motivating Democrats and independents, saying volunteers are hearing about the ruling as they knock on doors.

“I have never heard ‘choice’ as much as we heard it on the doors around the state,” she said.

She pointed to possible Democratic pickup chances, noting, for example, that state Rep. Greg Gilday, R-Camano Island, placed second in the primary to Democratic challenger Clyde Shavers.

A signature flop for House Republicans came in the 47th Legislative District of South King County, where three Republican candidates split the vote, resulting in Democrats Chris Stearns and Shukri Olow advancing to the November election.

Carmen Goers, a Republican backed by Wilcox and other GOP leaders, placed dead last in the primary, with 14% of the vote.

The disappointing showing came despite Goers’ campaign raising more than $200,000 and getting backed with an additional $20,000-plus in independent PAC spending.

Her two Republican rivals, Ted Cooke and Barry Knowles, raised about $10,000 between them.

Goers, a Kent resident and commercial lender with lengthy volunteer service, said she was floored when the primary numbers came in.

“The results were a hard hit. More like a bullet,” Goers said. She and family members worked the race hard, including her stepbrother doorbelling 300 houses on a 90-degree day.

“My strategy was working on getting out to moderate and swing and independent voters, knowing I had Republicans on my side,” she said.

But her two rival Republicans both ran to her right, accusing her of being a “RINO” (Republican in name only.) Both had run unsuccessfully for office multiple times before.

Goers, who is Black, said race came up in the primary, too, as Cooke decried identity politics at a GOP meeting and said he’d been pressured not to run against her because he is a white man.

“I said this is not about my race. I have served my community,” Goers said.

Cooke did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Wilcox, who had promoted Goers as a top Republican prospect, said he thought it was “silly” for the two GOP rivals to have stepped in and doomed the party to not having a shot there in November.

Notwithstanding the primary results, Wilcox sees signs of a possible turnaround, pointing to past years when Republicans had reversed disappointing primaries to salvage some races.

“That’s our job. I should be fired if I was going to give up,” he said.

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