Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Primary Election Analysis: How strong is McMorris Rodgers' support?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Another primary, another embarrassing turnout. In May, only 26.1 percent of Idahoans bothered to vote. As of Tuesday night, with some ballots still to be counted, Washington state sat at just 23.9 percent. At least Spokane County (28.5 percent turnout, unofficially) did beat Kootenai County, with just a 21.7 percent turnout in May.

I point out the low turnout as a disclaimer for all that follows: It’s hard to make too much out of such a small sample, but for now it’s all we have. So on with the snapshot analysis of last night’s results; all figures are based on results as of Aug. 5.
While five-term incumbent CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS put a happy face on Tuesday’s results in the Spokesman-Review, the fact is it was her weakest showing since her very first federal election in 2004. District-wide, she didn’t quite get to 52 percent; here in Spokane County, she failed to earn a majority, with just 49 percent support. In the 2004 primary, with two other strong Republican opponents, she hit 42 percent in Spokane County, where most of the district’s voters live. Since then, she has won her five elections without breaking a sweat, only failing to top 60 percent once, in 2006, when she “only” got 56 percent.

Rodgers’ primary result represents a 10-point drop in support from her 2004-12 general election average.

Why the fall? Since other local Republicans on the same ballot clearly outperformed her, it suggests her role in Congress may be the culprit. Being part of the House leadership isn’t a happy place to be, as now-former Congressman Eric Cantor (and Tom Foley before him) found out. Perhaps the do-nothing/blame-Obama agenda is wearing thin, or maybe Congress’s historically low approval ratings will hit both parties this year. It’s a tough spot for incumbents, hoping they can tiptoe through this election without anybody noticing they’ve been all hat and no cattle for the past two years.

You can learn a lot by watching the TV ads. If Rodgers or her deep-pocketed friends start attacking her opponent, Joe Pakootas, you’ll know that their own polling is scaring them. And the fact is, if they’re really worried, they have the money to carpet-bomb Pakootas into oblivion. But a funny thing happened when Cantor took that approach in Virginia; he lost. If, however, Rodgers’ ad team continues with the vague endorsements of “Freedoms” (since when did that word go plural?) and sad pictures of Grandpa left out in the hall in his wheelchair (because that’s what socialists do to grandpas), you’ll know they’re probably feeling fine. Still, in one of the safest districts for Republicans, something has changed Tuesday: A lot of people voted for someone other than Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s election results, 2004-14, rounded to the nearest figure. Sources: Spokane County Elections Office, Washington State Secretary of State

Spokane County Only Results
2004 Primary: 42%
2004 General: 57%
2006 Primary: 57%
2006 General: 55%
2008 Primary: 53%
2008 General: 63%
2010 Primary: 58%
2010 General: 61%
2012 Primary: 54%
2012 General: 61%
2014 Primary: 49%

5th District Overall Results
2004 General: 60%
2006 General: 56%
2008 General: 65%
2010 General: 64%
2012 General: 62%
2014 Primary: 52%

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About The Author

Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Ted S. McGregor, Jr. grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep high school and the University of the Washington. While studying for his Master's in journalism at the University of Missouri, he completed a professional project on starting a weekly newspaper in Spokane. In 1993, he turned that project into reality...