4 things to watch for in Tuesday’s unpredictable primary election

Republicans are dueling one another for legislative and congressional seats — and spending big against incumbents.


EVERETT — Voters are making plenty of decisions in Tuesday’s primary. Not all are predictable.

Contests for 20 seats in the state Legislature, four in Congress plus a Secretary of State race are on ballots. Duels for Snohomish County Public Utility District commission and Snohomish County prosecutor are as well. In each race the top two finishers advance to the November general election. If there are only two hopefuls, both move on.

Snohomish County election officials predict a little more than a third of the 510,000 registered voters will participate.

Here are four things to watch when tabulating begins Tuesday night.

1. A Republican rumble

Sam Low (left) and Robert Sutherland.

Sam Low (left) and Robert Sutherland.

Rep. Robert Sutherland, the two-term GOP incumbent from Granite Falls, is trying to survive against three challengers. The toughest is a fellow Republican, Sam Low, a Snohomish County Council member from Lake Stevens.

Sutherland, a firebrand conservative, won his past elections pretty handily. However, the 39th Legislative District got seriously reshaped in redistricting. Communities along U.S. 2 where he dominated are gone, replaced primarily by the city of Lake Stevens.

It is still considered a safe Republican seat. But it is unknown if the GOP voters new to the district will embrace Sutherland’s pugnaciousness and fervent embrace of 2020 election fraud conspiracies. Or will they prefer Low’s low-key style and centrist approach in which he views conversation and compromise with Democrats as fundamental?

Low has outraised and outspent Sutherland by a 3-to-1 margin. He’s also backed by numerous civic leaders in the district and two former occupants of the legislative seat. If successful, Low intends to keep his $127,000-a-year council gig while serving in the Legislature. It’s legal. Some Republicans wonder if he can pull it off. Low says if he can’t he’ll give up one office — but won’t say which one.

2. Who’ll get the baton?

Kim Schrier, seen here Nov. 6, 2018 addressing an election night in Bellevue, is likely to advance through the primary this year. (AP Photo file /Elaine Thompson)

Kim Schrier, seen here Nov. 6, 2018 addressing an election night in Bellevue, is likely to advance through the primary this year. (AP Photo file /Elaine Thompson)

About 45,000 Snohomish County voters wound up in the 8th Congressional District thanks to redistricting. That puts them on an electoral battleground this year because this congressional seat is considered up for grabs.

Democrat U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier of Sammamish, who is seeking re-election, will get through the primary without a scratch. November will be another story — once primary voters decide who will be her opponent.

Of the contenders, three Republicans stand out.

There’s Jesse Jensen, a former Army Ranger, who lost to Schrier in 2020 by less than 4%; Reagan Dunn, a Metropolitan King County Council member whose mom, Jennifer Dunn, held the seat for 12 years; and Matt Larkin, an attorney and former candidate for state attorney general.

Each initially trained their criticism on Schrier, riffing against her allegiance to the economic and social policies of the Democratic majority in Congress. But in the final days, Dunn and Jensen turned their attention on one another after a super PAC aligned with Jensen took aim at Dunn with a negative mailer.

This looks close and may not be resolved Election Night.

3. Choosing an overseer

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs is the first Democrat to serve as Secretary in more than 50 years and is facing several challengers in this election. (AP Photo file /Ted S. Warren)

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs is the first Democrat to serve as Secretary in more than 50 years and is facing several challengers in this election. (AP Photo file /Ted S. Warren)

In every election since 1964, voters chose a Republican to be Washington’s secretary of state. This year, there might not even be a Republican on the general election ballot.

Democrat Steve Hobbs got appointed secretary of state in November when Kim Wyman, a Republican, left for a job in President Joe Biden’s administration. He’s the first Democrat in the job in a half-century and favored to make it through the primary.

Republicans’ best hopes of retaking the seat are Mark Miloscia, a former state lawmaker and ex-leader of Family Policy Institute of Washington, and state Sen. Keith Wagoner of Sedro-Woolley.

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson is the wild card. She’s the lone election professional in the race and — this is where it gets interesting — not tied to either party. She’s running as a nonpartisan candidate, which could confound those voters instinctively primed to make choices by political party. Anderson is second in fundraising behind Hobbs and arguably the biggest threat to him staying in office, if the two face off in November.

Meanwhile, Tamborine Borrelli, leader of an election integrity group and purveyor of false election fraud claims, is in this race. We’ll see how many votes she gets, and how many of them she contests.

4. Playing the long game

John Lovick, left, June Robinson and Marko Liias.

John Lovick, left, June Robinson and Marko Liias.

Senate Republican leaders knew three of the county’s incumbent Democratic senators — John Lovick, June Robinson and Marko Liias — would make it through their respective primaries. Nonetheless, the caucus’ political operation spent a collective half-million dollars on mailers and television ads attacking each of their records.

It’s strategic. Tuesday is not about winning a primary but rather assessing the minority party’s chance of unseating any of the trio in November. Primaries are, in most instances, predictive of how things will turn out in a general election.

They view those dollars as a short-term investment to gather intel on voters, boost the performance of underdog candidates and tamp down the share of votes received by the incumbents. The Senate GOP is using the dough to test messages and try various methods of reaching the electorate. They’ll wind up with a wealth of data.

So too will Democrats. They want to know if any in the trio is vulnerable. Those incumbents, with outside help from their allies, are getting pushed to spend money defending themselves against GOP attacks.

If incumbents perform well Tuesday, Senate Republicans may decide to pay less attention to — and spend less money against — this trio in the general election. If not, those contests will be pretty heated this fall.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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