We now know the outcome, more or less, of the Washington State US Senate race—and it looks like it’s going to be Patty Murray, D-(Actual No-Kidding Progressive), over Dino Rossi, R-(Guy Who Will Be Running Again For Something As Soon As He Can).
Murray managed to win in a State that is far more “purple” than you might think, in a vote-by-mail election that guarantees at least few days of uncertainty.
You have to do some unusual math to figure out how these elections will go, and we’re going to walk through how this race got called by NBC just a couple hours ago.
So here’s what we do know: if you want to win an election in Washington, you basically have to carry some combination of King (Seattle, and Washington’s most populous, and liberal, county), Pierce (Tacoma, and Seattle’s southern suburbs, with a significant military population), Snohomish (Everett, and Seattle’s northern suburbs, also with a Navy population), Clark (Vancouver, and the northern suburbs of Portland, Oregon), Kitsap (home to a Naval Shipyard, an aircraft carrier homeport, and nuclear missile submarines), Whatcom (Bellingham, a college town and almost a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia), and Spokane (the largest in very super conservative Eastern Washington) Counties.
You also need to know that Washington is a virtually 100% vote-by-mail state, and that votes in the mail with an Election Day postmark, no matter when they arrive, are valid votes.
There was an amazing amount of anti-Murray advertising, most of it in the form of secret money coming from either the US Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove’s various groups; the basic themes of the ads suggested Murray caused all the unemployment and debt ever experienced in American history and couldn’t wait to make things worse.
Pro-Murray ads centered on her...well, her Progressive record—and her ability to bring jobs to the State...and that message was being transmitted in a State with high unemployment.
And as we’ll see, all of this created exceptionally high voter turnouts, particularly for midterm elections.
Now let’s do some electoral math:
We can look at the Secretary of State’s handy website and see just what’s arrived so far; it typically updates each day from here on out at 4:30 PM Pacific time, but there may be additional updates each day.
As of 7:30PM, November 4th, which is the most current update I have available, Murray is up by 45,000 and change with roughly 1.85 million votes counted so far.
But what we really need to know is: how many votes are there still to be counted?
The site has a county-by-county page that reports about 617,000 ballots are “on hand to be processed”...but that won’t include those that are still in the mail. We’ll talk more about them later.
Right now the largest concentrations of “on hand” ballots are, predictably in King (270,000), Pierce (30,000), Kitsap (29,000), Snohomish (88,000), and Spokane (65,000) Counties.
Snohomish, Kitsap, and Pierce Counties are running about 50-50 so far, and that means nothing is likely to happen in those counties that will change the outcome in any significant way, so we will put them aside for this analysis.
King County is running almost 65-35% Murray, and Spokane County is running 56-44% Rossi, so that’s where we turn for the rest of our analysis.
Now what we need to know is how many votes have yet to arrive in the mail, and the way we do that is to look at potential levels of voter turnout.
It works like this: King County has almost 1.1 million registered voters, 500,000 have already been counted, and 270,000 are waiting to be counted—and that’s 70% turnout, if no other votes arrive.
It’s pretty rare to see 70% + turnouts in midterms, but we’re already there, so let’s assume turnouts of 75% and 80%. At 75% that means 55,000 more votes are coming, at 80% 110,000. Add all the uncounted votes up, assume the current 65-35 distribution of votes holds up, and that suggests her margin, at those turnout levels, would grow by some number between 211,250-247,000 votes. If no more votes arrive, her margin should grow by 189,000 votes.
Spokane County has 260,000 registered voters, with about 120,000 ballots counted and 65,000 more sitting in trays not yet counted. That’s a 70.5% turnout, again, a remarkable result for a midterm, and, as we mentioned, they are voting for Rossi, 56-44%. Let’s again model for 75% and 80%; we would expect 15,000 or 23,000 more in the mail from those outcomes.
I also looked at every county with more than 5000 votes left to be counted. Those that are on the east side of the State are consistently 65-35% Rossi, Western Washington counties are running more or less 50-50, but they are mostly going to Murray.
And guess what? If I’m any good at arithmetic, Spokane County doesn’t have enough votes to get Rossi over the top, even if you get 80% turnout and 100% of all currently uncounted votes go for Rossi...and I think that means we can call this one for Murray by about 210,000 at 75% turnout in those two counties, minus any other result in the State, which are not going to be enough to swing the tide.
As I’m finishing this up, NBC is also calling for Murray.
So there you go...a good Progressive wins, with extraordinary turnouts in a year when other candidates had lots of their base stay home, and despite a massive “secret money” campaign for Rossi, courtesy of Karl Rove and the US Chamber of Commerce.
And just to make it even sweeter: she ran her campaign fully embracing her record, and standing up for her tough votes. She didn’t pander conservative, and her progressive voter base stood up and got her over the top.
That’s a message the Evan Bayhs of the world did not learn—and it’s a message Members of Congress...and a certain President...ought to learn, and fast, if they want to win in 2012.