It would have felt good to see Darcy Burner come out of yesterday’s primary with a modest victory. Good, but not especially comfortable considering the low turnout, partial results and unfathomable dynamics of our new top-two primary. But at what will likely be less than a three-point deficit to Dave Reichert once all the votes are counted, I’m not feeling especially uncomfortable either.
On the obvious down side, Reichert ended up on top, and by a similar margin as his 2006 general election victory. But on the up side, Reichert was held significantly below 50 percent… not a great place to be for a two-term incumbent. Indeed, according to a memo distributed today by Burner pollster Celinda Lake, Reichert’s demonstrated lack of support should be “sobering news” for the incumbent:
[D]espite his turnout advantages, the incumbent has been held under 50 percent of the primary vote, and the combined Democratic vote is greater than the Republican vote. This is sobering news for Reichert. The top two system, which allows for voters to split tickets on the primary ballot, most closely resembles the blanket primary system that prevailed in Washington State prior to 2003. Our research indicates that in the 94 congressional races that took place under a blanket primary between 1982 and 2002, the incumbent failed to register 50 percent of the primary tally in 10 of those contests. In seven of those contests, the challenger went on to victory in November…
Prior results do not guarantee future performance and all that, but it’s hardly a bleak situation for Darcy, who finds herself in a significantly stronger position than she was in at this stage of the 2006 race. Heading toward November Darcy can expect a resource advantage, a turnout advantage and presidential coattails to help carry her through to victory. And even yesterday’s results show progress; I don’t know of a single public or private poll that showed Darcy closer than six points to Reichert in recent months, and yet after only two weeks of advertising (at a cost, I’m guessing, of about $400,000) she’s managed to cut that gap in half. By comparison, an August 21-22 2006 SurveyUSA poll gave Reichert a 54-41 percent lead, a 13-point margin Darcy eventually whittled down to three by election day.
So yeah, I’d rather be up three points than down, but given all the same caveats I issued in my discussion of the governor’s race, I’m no more or less worried than I was Tuesday morning. For if there’s a conclusion to be drawn from the primary results, it’s that this race is once again going to come down to the wire. And that’s something we’ve known all along.