The ‘Trump effect’ is real, and it’s not good for local Republicans

Donald Trump’s toxic brand is corroding state Republicans’ chances of taking control of the Legislature.

Bill Bryant backpedaled into the “never Trump” camp last week, belatedly and messily pitching his tent next to Puget Sound Republicans running for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the Legislature.

Yet even as the GOP’s candidate for governor was moonwalking away from Trump, Washington State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison tweeted, adamantly, “Let me be perfectly clear: WSRP supports @RealDonaldTrump!”

Someone should tell Hutchison that her state Trumper-in-chief shtick is eroding the state party’s odds for its biggest potential prize this weird election year — control of the state Legislature.

I wrote in April about Washington Republicans’ strategy for retaking the state House: moderate candidates running in swing Puget Sound districts, especially in King County. Washington’s history of ballot-splitting, I thought, could have voters shun Trump but vote for Republicans down the ticket.

But the “Trump effect” is now clear.

Ben Anderstone, a political consultant, crunched the numbers from the state’s May presidential primary. Despite Trump’s huge — YUUUGE! — margin statewide, Republican turnout was down nearly 6 percent from 2008 in King County.

The depressed GOP turnout extended to east King County areas. The Republicans’ appeal to white, college-educated voters — especially women — was key to the GOP effectively retaking the state Senate in 2013. Those are also the voting blocs that are shunning Trump in national polls.

Anderstone works for left-leaning candidates, but I’ve found his data analysis to be excellent and spin-resistant. His conclusion: “Trump could not be more toxic for the Republican brand in this area,” he said.

The bad news for Republicans extended to the August primary in the King County suburbs, where the GOP has held seats in the Legislature recently, even as voters have drifted left. A few data points:

In the primary four years ago, state Sen. Steve Litzow, a moderate Republican representing Mercer Island, won by 12 points. This primary, with the depressed Republican electorate, Litzow lost to a first-time Democratic candidate (the third candidate, a Libertarian took 4 percent). Litzow seems likely to be in a total dogfight in the November election.

Washington State GOP Chairman Susan Hutchison, here at the state convention in Pasco in May, made waves in Cleveland when she confronted U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

In the district surrounding Federal Way, a solid, moderate Republican incumbent, state Rep. Teri Hickel, is in a virtual tie with her challenger. Her seatmate, state Rep. Linda Kochmar, took nearly 60 percent of the vote in the 2014 primary. This year, she is losing to a first-time Democratic candidate.

In the eastern King County District 5 centered in Issaquah, Republicans have held a…

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