Democrats in Washington state have been counting on high voter turnout in next week’s presidential election to help propel some local Democratic candidates to victory.
But at least one poll this week indicated that enthusiasm for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has dropped since Friday, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it is reviewing additional emails that may relate to its probe of her use of a private email server.
It’s a development most Democrats insist is unlikely to depress Washington voter turnout among their base or hurt their down-ballot candidates. Republicans, however, say it gives them an undeniable edge.
“There’s no way I don’t see this helping us,” said Kevin Carns, executive director of the House Republican Organizational Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Legislature’s lower chamber.
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Most Democratic candidates and strategists working to install Democratic majorities in Washington’s Legislature were quick to discount the significance of the letter FBI Director James Comey sent to Congress last week, which indicated the agency isn’t done examining emails that “appear to be pertinent” to its investigation of Clinton’s handling of classified information as secretary of state.
“This blends in with a lot of noise about Hillary’s emails, but it doesn’t bring any new information to light that people will use to influence their decision,” said state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, who chairs the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
In his letter, Comey indicated “the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”
Yet an ABC-Washington Post tracking poll released Tuesday found the percentage of supporters who were “very enthusiastic” about voting for Clinton had declined to 43 percent, down from 51 percent a week earlier. The same poll found Clinton trailed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by a percentage point.
Other polls have showed the gap between the two candidates narrowing, but with Clinton still in the lead.
None of the Democratic legislative candidates running in swing districts in the South Sound said Comey’s letter Friday has changed their support for their party’s nominee.
But Larry Seaquist, a former Democratic lawmaker from Gig Harbor, said he is “quite worried” that the latest development in Clinton’s email saga could hurt his chances in a Pierce County’s 26th Legislative District, where he was unseated by a Republican newcomer two years ago.
“There’s a sense the air kind of went out of the Hillary balloon,” said Seaquist, who is looking to return to the Legislature this year by defeating Republican state Rep. Jesse Young.
“We’ve been counting on kind of the Hillary coattails — that there would be so much pro-woman, pro-Hillary voting, and anti-Trump voting, that we would have a real lead and pull Democrats in swing districts over.”
Now, he said, “I’m very concerned about this.”
Seaquist said he is looking to distance himself from the “nastiness” of the presidential race by sending out last-minute direct mail ads that include only positive messages about his campaign.
Other Democrats in competitive races — such as in the 28th Legislative District around Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Federal Way’s 30th Legislative District — said they were focused on knocking on doors and connecting with voters before Tuesday’s election.
Marisa Peloquin, a Democrat who is looking to unseat state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, said she is skeptical that any new information will come from the new emails being reviewed by the FBI, given the time the agency already spent investigating the matter.
In July, Comey held a news conference announcing he wouldn’t recommend charges against Clinton for her use of the private server, while chiding her and her staff as being “extremely careless” with sensitive information.
Federal officials found the latest batch of emails that could relate to the Clinton probe during a separate investigation into illicit text messages allegedly sent by former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the recently estranged husband of one of Clinton’s top aides, Huma Abedin.
“I am a little bit doubtful whether any new information will come up, because it appears they are just looking at the ex of someone who was working on her campaign,” Peloquin said Tuesday.
Peloquin said she continues to be a Clinton supporter, but declined to discuss exactly how she’d vote.
Kristine Reeves, a Democrat challenging state Rep. Teri Hickel of Federal Way, said Tuesday she was “not honestly even thinking about” about the FBI director’s letter about the Clinton email investigation.
“What I’m hearing more from my neighbors is about how we are going to solve education funding, how we’re going to address public safety problems,” said Reeves, who is running in the 30th Legislative District.
Keith Schipper, a campaign spokesman working for Hickel, said Democrats are in denial if they think nothing has changed for their local candidates since Friday.
“The Democrat brand is taking massive body blows right now,” he said, adding that could be enough to sway voters who are still deciding who they’ll vote for further down the ballot.
Others on the Democratic side said the number of ballots returned already for the Nov. 8 election indicates Democrats are getting the strong turnout they’re hoping for throughout the state, where voters are expected to overwhelmingly favor Clinton.
As of Wednesday morning, about 29 percent of voters had returned their ballots in Washington’s all-mail election.
“I think Washington state voters are fired up to elect the first woman president, and they are fired up to defeat the offensive campaign of Donald Trump,” said Alex Bond, the political director for the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign.
Democrats have repeatedly sought to tie local and statewide Republican candidates to Trump, especially following a recording that emerged last month of the Republican nominee discussing grabbing women by the genitals.
Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized Democrats for talking more about the national ticket than the quality of their local candidates.
But with the controversy surrounding Clinton’s emails back in the news so close to the election, “now it’s coming down to real issues and real candidates, and real matchups,” said state Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, who chairs the House Republicans’ campaign committee.
“I think the national tickets kind of cancel each other out at this point,” Wilcox said Tuesday.
Bond disagreed, saying Clinton’s controversies aren’t even in the same realm as those surrounding Trump, who “actively brags about committing sexual assault” and “not paying his taxes.”
“Nobody has yet found anything criminal Hillary has done,” said Bond, who said the new emails discovered by the FBI could be duplicates of ones they’ve already reviewed.
“I think there is a dramatic difference between those situations and it is legitimate for us to talk about that.”
Democrats still supporting Clinton in swing districts
The following local Democratic candidates said the FBI’s recent announcement that it will review new emails that could be relevant to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server hasn’t caused them to withdraw their support for the Democratic presidential nominee.
Lane Walthers, running for the state House in the 31st Legislative District
Kristine Reeves, running against state Rep. Teri Hickel, R-Federal Way
Mike Pellicciotti, running against state Rep. Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way
State Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place
Mari Leavitt, running against state Rep Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom
Marisa Peloquin, running against state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma
Randy Spitzer, running against state Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard.
Larry Seaquist, running against state Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor