Election returns beat primary expectations

More than 20 percent of Thurston County voters returned their ballots by the end of last week. The response foreshadows a higher-than-predicted turnout for Tuesday's primary election.

Ballots must be turned in at local election drop boxes by 8 p.m. Election Day or be postmarked prior to or on that date to be counted. Secretary of State Sam Reed predicts statewide turnout at 38 percent, which is at the high end of the historic range but comparable to four years ago, according to his elections department.

Turnout could be even higher than 40 percent in Thurston County, Kim Wyman, the county auditor, said Friday. She upped her prediction after returns came in surprisingly strong – with 30,263 ballots out of 147,758 potential ballots received by Thursday. More came in Friday.

“I think we’ll be in the low 40s for this primary,” Wyman said, adding, “Still, that’s pretty sad that just 40 percent of the registered voters are going to be deciding who advances to the general.”

Voter interest is perked up by several races – including the U.S. Senate race in which Patty Murray has 14 challengers and the conflict is generating television ads. The rivals include establishment Republican Dino Rossi and newcomers such as wealthy businessman Paul Akers of Bellingham and tea party outsider Clint Didier, the former professional football player endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“We are seeing a surge of interest in politics and campaigns at both the national and state level, with people again talking about a ‘change’ election,” Reed said. “We have a great U.S. Senate race, some unusually heated legislative contests all around the state, an open 3rd Congressional District, some Supreme Court races that could be essentially decided in the primary, and much more.”

Wyman said the top local draw is the seven-candidate campaign for retiring state Rep. Brendan Williams’ seat in the 22nd District, which serves Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater. It features one Republican, Jason Hearn of Lacey, against a field of strong fundraising Democrats led by Stew Henderson, Chris Reykdal, Steve Robinson and Judi Hoefling.

Only the top two vote-getters advance under the state’s top-two primary format, and both can be from the same party. Henderson and Reykdal each have collected more than $60,000 in campaign contributions, and political committees funded by firefighters and labor unions are spending more than $26,000 on ads to help Reykdal; also running are activist Jeremy Miller and Fred Jensen.

The other big draw is retiring U.S. Rep. Brian Baird’s open seat in the 3rd Congressional District, which drew six candidates. Democrat Denny Heck got his first television ads of the campaign season up and running Thursday, giving his pro-jobs message more visibility against his two main Republican rivals, Olympia financial adviser David Castillo and GOP establishment favorite Jaime Herrera, a state legislator from Camas.

The Republicans are arguing for lower taxes and less federal spending. Also in the running are anti-war Democrat Cheryl Crist of Olympia, Republican tea party candidate David Hedrick of Camas and independent Norma Jean Stevens of Ocean Park.

U.S. Rep Adam Smith, a Tacoma Democrat who represents the 9th District (which includes Lacey and northeast Thurston County), faces challenges from Pierce County Republicans Dick Muri and James Postma and Green Party nominee Roy Olson of Olympia. Smith is expected to move easily past the primary.

In other primary races that feature light challenges to incumbents, state Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, is expected to move on to the Nov. 2 ballot in the 22nd District; his challengers are Justin Kover, a Democrat, and Chris Ward, who declared “no party” preference. In the 35th District, which runs from west Thurston County to Shelton and Bremerton, Democratic Rep. Fred Finn faces Republican Linda Simpson of Bremerton and independent Glenn Gaither of Hoodsport.

In state Supreme Court races, an independent political committee financed by labor and trial lawyer groups has prepared mailers attacking Justice Jim Johnson, a one-term conservative. Johnson is challenged by Stan Rumbaugh, a Tacoma trial lawyer who has little appeals court experience but is backed by Democratic groups. That race could be decided Tuesday.

The other contested Supreme Court race has Justice Richard Sanders fending off former judge Charles Wiggins and Pierce County judge Bryan Chushcoff.

Thurston County voters have an unusually large number of choices for two countywide offices – treasurer and assessor, each of which drew four hopefuls. Republican treasurer candidate Tom Nelson had his supporters waving signs at the busy Plum and Union street corners in Olympia on Friday morning; also hoping to survive the primary are Democrats Noah Crocker and Shawn Myers and Independent Dem Party candidate Bill Pilkey.

In the assessor’s race, Glen Morgan is the lone Republican against Democrats Steve Drew, Jeff Gadman and Dennis Pulsipher. Several other county races have two candidates, but both move on.

Also on the ballot are a county transit tax measure and an Olympia fire services tax measure.

Brad Shannon: 360-704-6869 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog