Some races are close enough to cause concern for incumbents
CLARK COUNTY — While the final votes have yet to be counted, and the results haven’t been certified, for many primary election races the results were known before the votes were even cast.
Washington’s top-two primary means that the two highest vote getters move on to the November general election, regardless of party affiliation. It also means that the primary meant very little for the candidates in races with only one or two people running, aside from a possible window into the minds of the voters.
That’s the case for several of the local state legislative races, including both District 18 positions, the 17th District Position 2 race, and the 20th District Position 1. For those races, the candidates will be looking at the results as either motivation to work harder between now and November, or else a sign that their seat is likely secure.
Surprisingly, few incumbents can feel fully secure as the general election looms.
Longtime Rep. Paul Harris, from the 17th District Position 2 seat, has a fairly comfortable 9-point lead after the second batch of returns, but that is against a political newcomer in Damion Jiles, Sr., who wasn’t a particularly active campaigner during the run-up to the primary.
“Nothing against Damion, but Damion didn’t do a whole lot,” said Harris on election night. “Put up a sign or two, and he got almost 45 percent of the vote.”
Still, Harris says the 17th District, which includes East Vancouver, Brush Prairie, and parts of unincorporated Battle Ground, can swing left or right in any given year.
“I think my district is in the middle,” he said. “I’ve had a Democrat for four years as a seatmate, and I’ve had a Republican for four years as a seatmate.”
Jiles, Sr. admitted he was surprised at how well he did. “Just shows me that it’s a winnable race,” he said. “Just gonna have to engage the clutch, change gears, and pick up some speed. I think we can do this come November.”
Jiles is a 12-year Army veteran with three children who says he’ll be wrapping up a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science about a month before the general election. The registered Democrat says he wants to focus on education, healthcare, and infrastructure at the state legislature.
Another veteran, Chris Thobaben, had a surprisingly strong showing in the generally more conservative 18th District, currently just 780 votes behind incumbent Republican Rep. Brandon Vick in the initial vote for Position 1 (that’s up from only a 298 vote margin after initial returns). Thobaben served 8 years of active duty for the US Marines, and is currently a reserve Logistics Officer with HQMC. He’s in Korea for business, but said in a statement to ClarkCountyToday.com that he’s looking forward to getting back and hitting the ground running in the general election campaign.
“We are going to keep knocking on doors and pushing forward on our support for economic growth, family wage jobs, veteran transition programs, and equal dignity for all of our citizens,” Thobaben said. “It is going to be hard to displaced an entrenched incumbent, but my team and I are happy to work hard to take the hill.”
Vick, who was first elected to the 18th District in 2012 to replace Liz Pike, did not respond to a request for comment. We will update this article should he do so.
Speaking of Liz Pike, the 18th District Position 2 seat she is retiring from could end up in the hands of a Democrat if primary results hold up in November. Kathy Gillespie, a former newspaper editor who stepped down as director of the Vancouver School Board in order to run, held a 1,600 vote lead over Republican Larry Hoff as of Wednesday afternoon. Gillespie ran for the same seat two years ago, losing by nearly 10,000 votes to Pike.
“I think what I learned is that we need to start early,” Gillespie says, “so we started in September. That you need to make canvassing a priority really early, so we’ve been canvassing since February, and that it really is a 24/7 job from my point of view. So I retired from the school board, and instead of taking a job outside with a company, I decided to make my job the campaign.”
Hoff, a retired credit union CEO who jokes he’s running in part because his wife wants him out of the house, says he believes many voters will wait until November to make up their mind, so they’re not reading too much into the primary results.
“I would have never run had Liz not retired,” Hoff says, “but indeed the seat was open so we made the decision to go for it.”
Two other legislative primary races that meant nothing for the candidates were in the 49th District, where both Sharon Wylie and Monica Stonier were running unopposed.
In the 17th District, Position 1 race, incumbent Vicki Kraft appears headed for a battle with Tanisha Harris, who is running as a Democrat. Harris was a winner in the last primary election in the race for Clark County Council, District 3, but ultimately lost to John Blom in the general election. By Wednesday afternoon Kraft’s lead had widened slightly, to 1,190 votes, with an estimated 17,000 votes still remaining to be counter. Another Democrat, James Tolson, had just over 1,600 votes in that race, so it will be interesting to see if those voters go over to Harris.
“I’ve lived in the 17th LD my entire life,” Harris says, “and I can tell you that the races there are very expensive. You’re going to see a flood of money from both sides coming into this race.”
In a tweet this morning, Kraft said she feels they’re in a strong position heading into the November election. It may be instructive to remember that Kraft beat Democrat Sam Kim in the 2016 general election by just over three percentage points, so it’s not unreasonable to expect a close race again this time around. What remains to be seen is what impact the current political climate will have on turnout during the upcoming midterm elections, and whether that will have any impact on races down to the state and local level.