Why did Walsh win? There are many reasons

Candidate and other political insiders explain why they think the race played out this way

Aberdeen Republican Jim Walsh’s still-slim lead continued to widen late Friday and was last calculated to be 539 votes over Longview Democrat Teresa Purcell in their race for a House seat in the 19th Legislative District.

The Secretary of State’s office reports Walsh has 28,576 votes (50.48 percent) while Teresa Purcell has 28,037 (49.52 percent). The amount of votes separating them is now approaching a 1 percent difference. That’s above the earlier super-close margin that would have required at least a mechanical recount: less than 2,000 votes and a gap of less than one-half of 1 percent, according to state election rules.

Walsh said he was finally feeling “somewhat comfortable” about his placement once he pulled ahead of Purcell by more than 400 votes mid-week. She had been slightly ahead for awhile but he started moving ahead this past week as elections officials continued counting ballots.

It’s a somewhat unexpected turn of events in a district that hasn’t voted to send a Republican to the State House since Bob Williams, who served three terms during the mid-1980s. The election is certified by the five counties within the district on Nov. 29, then the Secretary of State’s Office on Dec. 7.

Purcell’s campaign spent about $100,000 more than Walsh’s to retain the seat as a Democratic one. She amassed a campaign war chest approaching $237,000 and spent more than $215,000 on the election. Walsh’s campaign fund was also substantial but much smaller. His total amount raised exceeded $158,000, of which he spent more than $116,000 on the campaign.

Susan Hutchison, chair of the Washington Republican Party, said Walsh living in a less populated part of the 19th District also put him at a disadvantage. Cowlitz County, where Purcell lives, has the biggest voter base.

She noted that Walsh and Purcell both worked very hard to influence voters, but that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency benefited other Republican candidates sharing spots on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and likely had an influence on the results of this race.

“Folks are fed up with the way things have been there for too long,” Hutchison said. “This is a change election. Jim was a great candidate to capture the mood of that change.”

Walsh himself thinks many factors played a part in determining the outcome. The election of Trump might have had some effect but not as much as some might believe.

“Legislative races are different than top-of-the-ticket races,” he said. “People vote for president based on general beliefs. Their votes in state legislative and local races are based more on personal reactions. It’s hard to say a national ticket controls a local race.”

Purcell was among many Democrats running for legislative positions who were said to be in favor of a state income tax but actually weren’t, said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, a Democrat representing the 34th District. The Seattle-area representative was designated by the Washington State Democratic Party to comment on the Walsh-Purcell race and said “that very likely cost Teresa a number of votes.”

Fitzgibbon agreed with Hutchison’s view that voters were looking for something different this time around.

“Clearly a lot of voters, especially in more rural areas, feel frustrated with any number of things — including the lack of economic opportunity,” Fitzgibbon said. “I don’t think either party has successfully articulated a vision for rural Washington. Often see voters lash out against the party in power. They voted for a Republican candidate hoping for change.”

Purcell described the election as an “anomaly” because some statewide issues were approved that Republicans were vehemently opposed to, such as Initiative Measure 1491, which allows issuance of some extreme risk protection orders to temporarily prevent people considered a danger to themselves or others from accessing firearms.

Fitzgibbon also pointed to the growing influence of political action committees as playing a role in voters’ ballot choices. He advised voters to be wary of attack-style advertising and to do their own research.

Purcell was the target of numerous PAC ads, and she described the absence of truth and integrity in such creations as having left her feeling “floored.”

“They made up my background, career and they made up my position on issues,” she said. “How many times do I have to say I don’t support an income tax? How is it possible I can control the Second Amendment? They made up a person who doesn’t exist.”

Walsh was also targeted in such ads. These are only one factor among many playing a part in this election’s outcome, he said.

“Living through it, I think PACs had some effect. Trump had some effect. But it’ll take smart people a couple of years to figure out,” he said.

Elections officials within the borders of the 19th District of the State Legislature have pretty much worked their way to the end of ballots on hand to determine the outcome of the race for the Position 1 seat in the House. The 19th District, which includes portions of Grays Harbor, Lewis, and Cowlitz as well as Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.

Mostly left are challenged ballots — with no voter’s signature or ones where the signature doesn’t match the one on record — and ballots coming from outside the area. Those being mailed need to reach elections officials in the voters’ home counties before the Nov. 29 deadline. If they were mailed, they must have a postmark before or on Nov. 8 to be counted.

A recount was necessary to determine whether Purcell was eligible to run in the Nov. 8 General Election because incumbent JD Rossetti, also a Democrat, were also very close.

It became an open House seat this summer after Purcell garnered slightly more votes than the current seatholder Rep. JD Rossetti. A Democrat, he was appointed late last year to succeed then-Rep. Dean Takko after he was appointed to the 19th District State Senate seat, which Takko easily retained as a result of the General Election.