PORT ANGELES — Tina Podlodowski, the chair of the state’s Democratic Party, describes Democratic “control” in certain legislative districts as a thin, blue veneer.
“When you rip it off, there’s a sea of red underneath,” she said.
Washington is not one of those “true blue” states, she asserted.
Nearing her seventh month as chair, Podlodowski spoke to a crowd of about 80 Clallam County Democrats and others in The Landing mall’s second floor meeting room Wednesday evening.
Her talk centered on how state Democrats must strive harder to recruit candidates, engage swing voters year-round, implement changes to the state’s voting system and “lose by less” in those Eastern Washington races in which Democrats have not dared to run in 10 years.
“It was exactly what our group of people needed to hear,” Clallam County Democrats Vice Chair Nancy Martin said Thursday. “It was a huge vitamin boost for all of us — a boost of energy.”
Podlodowski lamented that Republicans have been far more active in state and local elections than Democrats throughout the past decade.
“Ten years ago, a lightbulb went off for Republicans to not only focus on federal elections but also state and local elections,” she said.
Now, Republicans control the governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate — what she dubs the “holy trinity” — in 32 states. Conversely, Democrats control six states with that powerful trio.
Ten years’ time reduced Democratic clout in the Washington state Senate from a 15-seat majority to a one-seat minority, and from a 28-seat majority in the Washington state House to a two-seat majority.
“Here’s what scares me the most,” she said: Republicans control 26 city councils across Washington compared to Democrat’s six and seven that are non-partisan.
“We need to make sure we have people in the pipeline,” she said, noting that beyond skill, it’s also a matter of getting candidates at the “right place, right time.”
Reaching swing voters
Podlodowski contrasted data from 2009-12 with data from 2013-16 to emphasize declining efforts to engage with constituents, including swing voters.
The latter years saw a 55 percent decline in canvassing, a 26 percent decline in canvassing and phone calls, a 25 percent decline in voter conversations and a 75 percent decline in voter conversations at doors.
She said the system of running coordinated campaigns every two years neglects to reach voters in “off-years.”
“For 18 months, we don’t talk to people and then a big election happens so for six months, we’re out there talking to everyone.”
Podlodowski likened it to Starbucks shutting down all of its stores for 18 months, and then opening for six months only.
“Instead of convincing you to try their coffee, a bunch of people are on the sidewalk, screaming, ‘Buy my coffee. Buy my coffee. Buy my coffee.’ ”
She said more data needs to be collected on the values of Independents and those closer to the center, so canvassing efforts provide more targeted messages.
Changing the voting system
Although Podlodowski considers Washington’s voting system to be among the “most progressive” in the nation, many aspects of the system simply don’t work, she said.
Only two of 39 auditors in the state support the “big four”: the Washington Voting Rights Act, same-day voter registration, automatic voter registration and postage-paid ballots, she said.
Ballot drop boxes also pose an issue of access, as evidenced by the Makah Tribe, Podlodowski said.
During a visit to Neah Bay, the Makah Tribal Council told Podlodowski about 95 percent to 96 percent of people living on the Makah Indian Reservation vote in tribal elections, but only 17 percent to 18 percent vote in county elections, she said.
“Why?” she asked.
In Clallam County, there are two drop boxes in Port Angeles, one in Sequim, one in Forks and zero in Neah Bay.
“It’s a $1,000, $2,000 piece of metal. Surely, we can get one,” she said. “And the tribal council started laughing and said if you become secretary of state and get us a drop box, we will throw you a party. We’ve been asking for a drop box for 10 years.”
‘Losing by less’
Podlodowski offered Washington’s 7th legislative district, the “reddest” district in the state, as an example of a race where Democrats would do more to “lose by less.”
“Democrats haven’t even bothered to run in LD7 for 11 years,” she said. “In 11 years, there was nothing more than Republican speakers and Republican talk.”
In the August primary election, Democratic candidates “cracked” 30 percent for the first time in the district, she said.
In the state senator race, Karen Hardy received 32.76 percent of the votes, compared to Republican Shelly Short’s 67.24 percent; and in the race for state representative position No. 1, Susan Swanson received 33.95 percent of the votes, compared to Republican Jacquelin Maycumber’s 66.05 percent.
“That is a really, really big accomplishment,” she said. “The magic number for them is 38 [percent] to 39 percent. That’s the number I need to take out [congresswoman] Cathy McMorris Rodgers. And they’re on track.”
Hardy and Swanson don’t need to take the general election to generate a “win” for the Democratic Party, she said.
“It’s a matter of losing by less.”
In the last presidential election, 47.63 percent of Clallam County voted for the nation’s president, Donald Trump, and 44.8 percent voted for Hillary Clinton, while in Jefferson County, the vote was 62.42 percent for Clinton and 29.77 percent for Trump.
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].