OLYMPIA — It was a remark worth pinning on an opponent’s bulletin board.
Washington Republican Party chairwoman Susan Hutchison, stood before a crowd of partisans in May and declared the outcome in the gubernatorial election would hinge on voters in Snohomish County.
“If we flip Snohomish County, we win statewide,” Hutchison announced at the GOP convention in Pasco.
It will become clearer if the GOP succeeds Tuesday when voting in the 2016 election ends and ballot counting begins.
“I can’t make any predictions. I can only hope and pray,” Hutchison said last week. “We are watching ballot returns closely. It looks good in Snohomish County. But we never know until the votes are counted.”
Marc Siegel, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said they didn’t need the “advance warning” from Hutchison to understand the importance of the county’s electorate in statewide races, especially governor.
“We’ve been very focused on getting out the vote in Snohomish County,” he said. “We don’t take any votes for granted.”
The curtain comes down on the presidential election at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Until then, ballots can be placed postage-free in a designated drop box. Those returned by mail must be postmarked no later than Tuesday to be counted. It will take 68 cents of postage—basically two stamps — to mail them in without complications that could require the county to pick up the postage tab.
That’s higher than normal because the ballot in Snohomish County is larger-than-usual. There are so many items, three columns are required to get everything onto the 18-inch, double-sided sheet of paper.
Voters aren’t finding the race for president on the front of their ballots. State law dictates statewide and countywide measures appear first. There are 16 filling up the front side — seven statewide initiatives, seven amendments to the Snohomish County Charter, two advisory measures and a proposed revision to the state constitution.
The presidential contest is the first item on the back side of ballots. Races for Congress, governor and eight other state executive offices follow. Contests for seats on the state Supreme Court, in the Legislature and on the Snohomish County Council eat up much of the remaining space.
There are local measures, too, such as ones dealing with the form of government in Snohomish, a transportation sales tax in Lynnwood and advisory votes on fireworks bans in Bothell and Snohomish.
As of Friday, 154,879 ballots had been returned in Snohomish County or about one-third of those sent out.
The Trump effect
In the weeks and months since Hutchison’s comment, the Republican and Democratic parties have been assembling the human infrastructure required to reach and win over voters.
Each party has opened field offices in the county where volunteers and paid party operatives are contacting thousands of registered voters by phone. From these offices, teams of partisans are deployed into neighborhoods to knock on doors of those identified as potential supporters of their party’s candidates.
This year, in a measure of the county’s electoral significance, both presidential candidates held public events in Everett.
Democrat Hillary Clinton visited in March, ahead of the state’s presidential primary. She campaigned in front of several hundred union members at the Machinists Hall.
Trump arrived Aug. 31, drawing a crowd of roughly 9,200 to Xfinity Arena with many more people gathered outside. It was his second trip to Washington.
He held two rallies in the state in early May. His return fulfilled a promise he made to Hutchison who believes his appearance energized Republicans and will pay dividends for the GOP’s slate of statewide candidates — even though they all skipped the event.
“It made people in Snohomish County feel good about the presidential election,” she said. “It gets people involved in the election process and that’s good for everybody. What happens at the top of the ticket does affect what goes on in the races lower on the ballot.”
Democratic Party officials think Trump’s visits did more political harm than good for Republican candidates.
“We’re talking to voters. They are horrified by Donald Trump,” Siegel said. “We think his message is dragging down Republican candidates in Snohomish County and throughout the state.”
Red, blue and you
Snohomish is mostly a blue county as its voters have elected a Democratic majority in its state legislative delegation, congressional delegation and county government.
Democrats hold all the seats in the 1st, 21st, 32nd and 38th legislative districts which cover communities stretching from Everett south into King County along I-5.
Still, there are pockets of solid red. Republicans occupy all three legislative seats in the 10th District, which takes in a sliver of north county, and the 39th district which includes a portion of east county.
And central Snohomish County is home to a swing district, the 44th, which takes in Snohomish, Lake Stevens and Mill Creek. A liberal Democrat, John Lovick, and a conservative Republican, Mark Harmsworth, serve in the House with a moderate Democrat, Steve Hobbs, holding the Senate seat.
This mix of dark red, dark blue and purple is why Snohomish is perceived as a swing county though it’s not been swinging much in statewide races in recent history.
The last time the county went for a Republican candidate for governor occurred in the historic 2004 election. That year Republican Dino Rossi received 49.9 percent and ended up with 6,400 more votes in the county than Democratic candidate Chris Gregoire, who won the election.
Four years later, when Gregoire was re-elected, she won Snohomish County with 52.4 percent.
In 2012, Democrat Jay Inslee beat Republican Rob McKenna in the county by roughly 8,000 votes. His percentage, 51.2, was far less than the 57.2 percent garnered by President Barack Obama. Political consultants say the gap represents voters willing to back a Democratic candidate for president and a Republican for governor.
They figure Republican Bill Bryant will need to corral support from those independent-minded voters to have any chance of unseating Inslee.
On the battleground
At this stage, there’s little Inslee and Bryant can say to win over voters.
For them, their campaigns and their political parties, the focus is solely on getting those who support them to actually turn in their ballot.
On Thursday, Bryant visited the GOP center in Snohomish while Inslee stopped by the party’s field office in Everett. Both candidates are crisscrossing the state to make similar stops in the final hours of the election.
Bryant’s campaign strategy focuses on getting identified “Bryant voters” to turn out. He’s got his own field operation which is complemented by efforts of the county and state parties.
“If Snohomish County goes red as she predicts, it will go well for our campaign,” said Justin Matheson, Bryant’s campaign manager. “We know who has and has not voted on our list. Our objective is to get them to vote.”
Christian Sinderman, a senior campaign consultant for Inslee, brushed off any notion of Republicans replicating their performance of 12 years ago.
“Snohomish County has been trending more Democratic the last couple cycles,” Sinderman said. “Snohomish County will not be going red this year.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.
Here are the locations of boxes where Snohomish County ballots can be dropped off postage-free:
Arlington (near library), 135 N. Washington Ave.
Bothell (QFC parking lot), 22833 Bothell-Everett Hwy.
Edmonds (near library), 650 Main St.
Everett (Courthouse Campus), Rockefeller Avenue and Wall Street.
Everett (at McCollum Park), 600 128th St. SE.
Lake Stevens (near the city boat launch), 1800 Main St.
Lynnwood (in front of City Hall), 19100 44th Ave.
Marysville (behind City Hall), 1049 State Ave.
Monroe (near library), 1070 Village Way.
Mukilteo (near library), 4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd.
Snohomish (near library), 311 Maple Ave.
Stanwood (near library), 9701 271st St. NW
Drop boxes will be available on the following days only:
Sun. Nov. 6 – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Darrington IGA parking lot, 1090 Seeman St.
Sultan Elementary School parking lot, 501 Date St.
Mon. Nov. 7 – 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Granite Falls Market parking lot, 115 N. Granite Ave.
Quil Ceda Village Administration parking lot, 8802 27th Ave. NE, Tulalip
Tues. Nov. 8 – 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Everett Mall parking lot, 1402 SE Everett Mall Way
Mountlake Terrace Library parking lot, 23300 58th Ave. W
Voters also can turn in completed ballots at the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office until 8 p.m. Tuesday. It is on the first floor of the Snohomish County Administration Building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.
More info: www.snoco.org/elections or call 425-388-3444.