There’s Blue in Them There Provinces


Question: Which Washington county votes consistently over 70 percent Democrat?

A. King County.
B. Jefferson County.
C. San Juan County.

Answer: All of the above.

Sure, King County’s votes make far more difference in statewide votes. The combined 2022 turnout in Jefferson and San Juan Counties was about 32,000, which is barely three percent of the King County turnout. But, for the record, the backwoods provinces around Port Townsend and Friday Harbor are as dependably blue as Seattle.

Take last month’s vote for the US Senate: King County cast some 900,000 votes, 74 percent going to Democrat Patty Murray. Jefferson cast 21,000, 72 percent of them Democrat. San Juan’s 11,000 votes went 73 percent Democrat.

Those margins exceed blue-leading counties like Pierce and Snohomish where Democrats generally get majorities in the mid 50s.

Port Townsend has not always been blue. When George Yount arrived from Snohomish County in the early 1980s, Port Townsend was still a sleepy mill town populated by blue collar fishermen, loggers and pulp mill workers. At the time, Yount was a Republican, and the state GOP was arguably the more liberal – especially on issues of the environment. Two of the three Jefferson County commissioners were Republican, as were most other local officials.

“But the locals were pretty conservative,” he recalls. “I went to a Republican Party meeting and I was shocked. They truly were to the right of Attila the Hun.”

But Port Townsend was beginning to change. Artists, musicians and writers were moving in, drawn by the climate, affordable housing and the end-of-the-road culture. And they tended to vote more liberal than the locals.

As the Republican Party shifted, then tumbled right, Yount switched parties and eventually became chair of the Jefferson County Democrats. Along the way, the county has grown increasingly blue, favoring Joe Biden by three to one over Trump in 2020.

For better or worse, this translates to local politics, characterized by devout environmentalists who buy organic foods and march for everything from abortion rights and gun control to bans on grocery bags and aquaculture.

The same goes for San Juans, where islanders vote even bluer than Jefferson.

This seems to conflict with the conventional wisdom that Republicans thrive in small towns. Statistically, Jefferson is as rural and sparsely populated as any county west of the Cascades. It’s dominated by a town of just 10,000 people and about the same number of black-tail deer. Port Townsend is overwhelming white, increasingly populated by affluent retirees who are supposed to vote conservative.

But not here. Whether they’ve retreated to PT or the San Juans, the mostly affluent retirees on both sides of the Strait cling to their liberal, urban sensibilities. And they vote accordingly.

Ross Anderson
Ross Anderson
Ross Anderson is a founding member of the Rainshadow Journal collective. He retired to Port Townsend after 30 years of journalism at the Seattle Times.


  1. One more observation, philosophically unable to vote a split ticket, these ‘blue’ voters vote ‘lockstep’ with their party even when the better candidate may be from the other party.

    • I’d give this theory a lot more credibility if there was actually a better “red” candidate in ANY of the races in question.

  2. I recall once interviewing a former Pike Place Market director — believe it was John Clise, but I could have his first name wrong. He had just moved from Seattle to PT and extolled its charms as Great for retirees and artists. Just one problem: Hard to find a decent job.

    • John Clise, scion of the famous Clise family in Seattle (real estate), eventually found a job in Port Townsend, as mayor and proprietor of a beloved general store. He lived to rue the former assignment.

  3. Well, sure. Your perspective on policy may correlate with geography, but it’s the geography of your life, not the geography of the moment.

    It would be more interesting to find an area in the state that was in the aggregate squarely in that serious, environmentally responsible ’80s Republican camp, and has stayed there, while the process that started then with Reagan’s election brought us Craswell, Culp, Kent etc. — without a lot of infiltration from Seattle. There you may find the key to our survival.


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