Washington Republicans fight the 'Trump effect' | KUOW News and Information

Washington Republicans fight the 'Trump effect'

Oct 27, 2016

It’s not hard to see what Republicans in Western Washington are up against this year. State House candidate Paul Graves runs into it at Jackie Treadwell’s door in Maple Valley.

“Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” asks Treadwell.

"Republican. And a reasonable one!" Graves says.

"I used to be a Republican but I don’t like Trump," she responds.

"Yeah. This is one of those years,” he sighs.

Graves, a 34-year-old lawyer, says he doesn’t like Trump either – the attack on Sen. John McCain for being captured in Vietnam, the crude comments about women.

“Character still matters,” Graves says later. “And that’s a lack of character. And so I, you know, I can’t give him my support."

In any other presidential year, denouncing the person at the top of the ticket would probably be considered disloyal.

But not this year.

By all indications, Trump is trailing significantly in Washington state. The latest Elway Poll shows Trump with only 31 percent support compared with Hillary Clinton’s 48 percent.

Many Republican candidates have denounced Trump. They include US Senate candidate Chris Vance, and gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant.

Trump has even become an issue in the state treasurer's race, which for the first time features two Republicans -- Michael Waite and Duane Davidson.

Davidson has declined to give his opinion on Trump, saying he doesn’t want to politicize the treasurer's race.

Waite says he will not support Trump, but he is frustrated that it’s even an issue.

"It’s distracting … and to spend any time outside of just talking about the fact that I can add tremendous value in the Treasurer's Office detracts from our potential for change," he says. 

So the question that both Democrats and Republicans are asking is — will there be a Trump effect on state and local Republican candidates?

If you ask Republicans, they are likely to say – not so much.

Rob McKenna is a former attorney general who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2012. McKenna says especially in suburban districts, voters are used to splitting their ticket — voting Democrat at the top, for president and Senate, and Republican in local races.

"This is a state of notoriously independent voters where people routinely split their ticket and are proud of saying, ‘I vote for people in the other party,” he says.

But Democratic pollsters say all indications are that this going to be a very tough year for Republicans up and down the ticket.

Ben Anderstone is a political consultant with the group Progressive Strategies Northwest. He specializes in figuring out voter sentiment.

"Republican candidates on the state level are really on the defensive having to spend a lot of time distancing themselves from Trump and the national brand and being on the defensive is never a good position in politics," Anderstone said.

And he says that’s despite the good job Republicans in this part of the state typically do in drawing support from Democratic-leaning voters, by focusing on economic issues.

Democrat Darcy Burner, who is running for state representative in the 5th Legislative District, stands in front of her button-making shop in Carnation.
Credit KUOW photo/Deborah Wang

According to the Elway Poll, 48 percent of voters say they are likely to vote for Democrats in races for state Legislature vs. 36 percent for Republicans.

And that is welcome news for Democratic candidates like Darcy Burner.

Burner has run three times unsuccessfully for Congress, and this year she is battling Graves for that open state House seat.

GOP candidate Paul Graves doorbelling in Maple Valley. Gone are the days of paper and clipboards. Voter information is now available on an app.
Credit KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang

Burner says most of the voters she’s met in the district dislike Trump.

"People are pretty upset,” she said. “Occasionally, I will run into somebody who’s a fervent Trump supporter. But honestly it’s pretty rare."

But success at the polls for GOP candidates may come down to working hard to reach voters, and trying to persuade them not to worry so much about the presidential race.

"The schools your kids and grandkids go to, the roads you drive on, the business climate in this state all happens in Olympia not in D.C.,” Paul Graves tells Jackie Treadwell on that porch in Maple Valley. “So I think especially if you are frustrated with your choice for president its worth focusing on these races."

And success may also be about lowering expectations.

Republicans won control of the state Senate in 2013. And this year, the party hoped to take over the state House.

But that was before Donald Trump.

Now Republicans are saying they are hoping for a tie.