Even With No Electoral College, Statewide Races Have Math To Victory

Oct 24, 2012

In the presidential race, we hear a lot about the electoral map and the math to winning the presidency. It’s all about swing states like Ohio and Florida. At the state level, there’s no electoral college. The candidate with the most votes wins. But there’s still a formula for victory.

Austin Jenkins: “I’m at the Port of Olympia looking out at the southern tip of Puget Sound. Former state Democratic Party Chair Paul Berendt says the way to navigate a path to victory in Washington - if you’re a Democrat - involves what he calls a “salt water strategy.”

Berendt: “Among the Democratic base counties there’s a similarity that I think is very interesting that people don’t think about that often, that is they’re all saltwater counties. They’re all on Puget Sound.”

Chief among them: heavily Democratic King County with nearly a third of the state’s voters. If Democrat Jay Inslee is to win the governor’s race he’s got to win King County - and win it big.

Berendt: “The game plan in King County has always been to turn out the vote. If we can turn out voters, we can typically win 60-percent of the vote in King County.”

And then, says Berendt, a Democrat needs to pick up one more large county: either Snohomish to the north or Pierce to the south. But from there, it’s a fairly short path to victory. Consider this bit of Washington political history. In the year 2000, Democrat Maria Cantwell won just five of Washington’s 39 counties to unseat incumbent Republican U-S Senator Slade Gorton. So where does this leave Republicans?

Chris Vance: “The farther away you get from the Space Needle, the more Republican the state is.”

Chris Vance is a former Republican Party chair. He says the key for Republican Rob McKenna to win the governor’s race is turning out the base in eastern Washington and in rural counties. But then it’s right back to the big kahuna: King County.

Vance: “There’s no way a Republican’s going to win King County running in a major statewide race, the magic number is 40-percent. You’ve got to get 40-percent, maybe 39.8-percent, something like that, in King County to have a chance to make the math add up in the rest of the state.”

Conversely, Vance says, if a Republican doesn’t get 40-percent in King County a harsh reality quickly sets in.

Vance: “There just aren’t enough votes left in the rest of the state to win.”

Assuming a Republican candidate can get 40-percent in King County, then Vance says the next step to victory is winning both Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Vance: “Really, a Republican has to do well in what I call the suburban crescent, the communities that go around the city of Seattle.”

The reality is Washington is a blue state where Democrats outnumber Republicans. And more people live west of the Cascades than they do east. Vance says that’s made for frustrating election nights in past years where Republicans win more than 30 counties but still lose the election.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio