(By Brandon Nobles/Brandon is a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in English and Humanities. He is a current online teacher and is the Research Coordinator for the 7th LD Democratic Central Committee.)
During the Democratic Caucus season last year, any Stevens County resident would have been surprised by the crowd that flushed in to the local Chewelah gymnasium.
The local Chewelah and outer-city precincts produced a large crowd of supporters to decide whether Sanders or Clinton would receive delegates from this area, causing one to immediately ask the question about where have all these Democrats been hiding? It was a welcoming change from the march-in-step Republican culture around here that one would typically stereotype with such a rural region.
This event would ultimately serve as one of the inspirations for Democratic candidates to run for office to wrestle the formerly unchallenged state legislative seats from Republican hands. But there is that time-honored saying, getting Democrats out to vote is a lot like herding cats. Democrats are renowned for not voting in primary, special, and mid-term elections as they typically only show up for presidential elections or to vote on some specific pet issue. However, this primary for state offices was encouraging in that for an election that Democrats normally ignore – on top of it being in a deep red distric – Democrats captured about a third of the vote.
On the other side of the coin however, there was something very disconcerting in the entire election itself, the actual voter turn out, which was extremely low for the five counties of the 7th Legislative District, bringing out only about a third of registered voters. However, Democrats should see this as motivating in that there are literally tens of thousands of potential votes out there, and Democrats need to take only a small fraction of those missing votes for a November victory.
The 7th District is winnable, but only with the proper strategies and message will Democrats be able to get these voters to stamp their ballot envelopes and turn Northeast Washington blue.
First and foremost, Democrats from a national level down need to change their tactic of trying to poach Republican voters from the herds. As with Trump’s victory and the two victories of George W. Bush, Democrat voters are far easier to poach to the Republican side than vice-versa. Moreover, there is no real reason to do this as Democrats have swaths of the registered non-voting to swell their own ranks.
This is even more true in the 7th District, when studying precinct data, there is clearly an urban/Native reservation vs. rural precinct divide. Towns on the reservations are predominantly Democratic strongholds whereas 7th LD cities are baby blue with 40-49% of most cities and towns in the 7th District voting for Democratic politicians. What is more encouraging–or disappointing, depending on how one wants to look at it–the cities when broken down (a little equation taking a city’s population, subtracting school district numbers of children, subtracting past election voter totals) are the areas where one finds a great deal of registered and non-registered voters who are not voting (Chewelah itself is home to somewhere between 500-1000 people just like this). Campaigning these urban centers into the ground is paramount in pulling off a Democratic victory.
And how does one draw these voters out? Of course with messaging. Going beyond the grand and usual local GOP political fairy tales of wolves coming in the night and cries against regulations (without actually naming which specific regulations they are upset about), Democratic candidates can have a practical field day in terms of promoting and pressing issues that matter to all people, the same issues I listed in my last column.
It was encouraging to see our Democratic candidates discussing the Capital Project budget which would be instrumental in terms of creating jobs and producing valuable infrastructure projects here. Also the campaigning on doing something about the drug epidemic which in turn would provide solutions to the related issue of property crime. Broadband access is also a keynote issue, as without the proper digital infrastructure in place, it is highly unlikely many businesses would even try to move and operate in the region. A plethora of other issues are out there that current local politicians and leaders ignore but could be political dynamite for our Democratic candidates to campaign on. This in turn will demonstrate to the community and district there is a potential new way of doing things that can turn this district around, but only if they get up and get those ballots in the mail.
Last but most importantly is the fact that Democrats need to rally together by connecting and encouraging their non-voting but left-leaning acquaintances and family members to get their ballots out in the mail. If every 7th District Democrat who voted in this 2017 primary got one or two people to vote in the November general election, a Democratic victory would be easily won. We have the advantage here in which many of the 7th district to one degree or another knows each other and we see each other often, usually in those same baby blue towns.
A small chat, words of encouragement,and a reminder could go a long way in getting more people to vote from our friends, family, and neighbors. We must harness the power of that old Democratic value of solidarity. We must lift up those Democratic compadres of our’s in the community who do not vote because they have been in a malaise believing Democratic efforts in this region are futile when the opposite is true as long as we are able to get their votes.
Democrats and other left-leaning independents need to realize that we no longer have to hide here, we have friends, allies, and a chance at saving Northeast Washington. Time of course is limited in that the general election is less than three months away, but if we get out there and show the importance of not only voting, but also changing the winds for a different future for the 7th than the economic and social maelstrom we are currently heading.