A blue wave hit the suburbs, while a red one hit the rural areas even stronger than usual. The result around here was a wipeout of Republicans in King County, and an ever growing urban-rural divide.
That “wave” that everyone was talking about? It turns out it was just as polarized and divided as everything else in politics.
A liberal blue wave did roll in for Tuesday elections, at least in the suburbs. But a conservative red wave simultaneously coursed through the rural areas. As hard as it may be to imagine, Tuesday’s election mostly showed that our yawning urban-versus-rural divide is only getting wider.
Democrats easily won back control of the U.S. House, and also solidified commanding control over the Washington state Legislature. This blue wave, fueled by anger at President Donald Trump, powerfully lifted Democrats in districts anywhere near a suburb – or, say, within 30 miles of a Whole Foods store.
This wave propelled Democratic newcomer Kim Schrier to a six-point lead over the GOP’s Dino Rossi in the 8th Congressional District, which has never elected a Democrat before but unfortunately for him has most of its voters on the west side of the Cascade mountains. The King County part of that district is backing her by a whopping 16-point margin, in first-day returns released Tuesday.
This blue wave also swamped the entire GOP in King County — with the result that the party now is all but extinct here.
Voters have been herding Republicans out of the suburbs for a while now, but the Trump era has accelerated this trend with a vengeance. On Tuesday there were five state legislative seats left in King County that were held by GOP incumbents. Four out of the five — including incumbent Sen. Mark Miloscia in Federal Way — were losing.
The one exception is Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, but he is only leading political newcomer and Democrat Mona Das by less than a percentage point.
But out in the hinterlands, away from the Whole Foods salad bar lines, a smaller but still potent red wave is swamping Democrats by huge margins. In a marquee race for Congress, GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who represents Spokane plus the nine rural counties around it, easily won re-election in what was supposed to be a tight race with Democrat Lisa Brown.
This red wave seemed even more indiscriminate than the blue one. Take the case of Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg. He announced in September that he was resigning due to multiple sexual-harassment allegations. Yet he still is crushing his Democratic challenger in the rural district by an astonishing 29 percentage points.
Or take Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who just last week was revealed to be plotting for a holy biblical war. He is nevertheless beating the Democrat by 16 points.
In fact, there’s not a single Democratic candidate leading in any legislative race in Eastern Washington, and most are trailing by 20 to 30 points.
So after all the talk about Americans working to “bridge the divide” from the last election, what ended up happening is the blue areas only got bluer (and also a bit bigger). While the red areas got deeper red. When there are R’s and D’s on the ballot, we’ve become two completely separate geographic tribes, growing ever distant in our respective views on the world.
This era of political polarization is pushed daily by the man at the top, but it’s a disaster for Republicans around here. The party is on track to lose six or eight seats in the state House and a couple Senate seats, giving Democrats total control in Olympia.
But in the calculus of the U.S. Senate, where rural states get as many senators as huge urban states like California, the math of polarization is brutal for Democrats. Even in a national election where the party is estimated to have won the total vote by nine or so points, Democrats ended up losing Senate seats.
Voters wanted some oversight over Trump, so the good news is they got it. But the waves weren’t strong enough one way or another to settle anything. So expect these red-blue divisions to just grow wider still.