The Endorsement Game


The era of endless political campaigns has generated a ceaseless contest for endorsements, particularly when an incumbent retires, and a coveted office comes open.  Here’s an update.

First to keep track of is the contest for Washington’s Sixth Congressional District. The International Association of Fire Fighters has endorsed the candidacy of state Land Commissioner Hilary Franz. But the South Kitsap Fire Fighters have given their blessing to State Sen. Emily Randall.  The Lower Elwha S’Kallam Indian tribe is backing Franz while a Jamestown S’Kallam endorsement decorates the Randall website.

The Franz campaign recently pilloried Randall for incorrectly claiming endorsements from the Lower S’Kallams and the Lummi Nation. “We have seen how Hilary [Franz] partners with tribal nations to fight climate change, restore salmon habitat and strengthen our communities and tribal treaty rights,” said a statement from Francis Charles of the Lower Elwha tribe.

Franz and Randall, both Democrats, are battling for the U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer. A similar contest is underway among Republicans in Eastern Washington for the 5th District seat of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who’s hanging it up after 20 years in Congress.

Such positions don’t often come open. Incumbency carries with it great advantages. Since the Gingrich “revolution” of 1994, only two-House members of Washington’s congressional delegation have been unseated, most recently U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s Third Congressional District. The team of U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have held office for a combined 24 years, with Cantwell heavily favored to retain her seat this year.

A further complication is Washington and California have adopted primary elections where the top two candidates move on to the general election, even if they are of the same party. The system has served up battles between left-leaning Democrats in the Puget Sound area.  An example was the unsuccessful attempt by Gov. Jay Inslee to oust a pro-business Democrat, State Sen. Mark Mullet, from the Legislature. Meanwhile, Republicans are vying to sound more conservative on the far side of the “Cascade curtain.”

Endorsements don’t always resonate with voters, particularly given the decline of newspaper circulation. In 2012, most of the state’s dailies backed Republican Reagan Dunn’s run for Attorney General. He was, however, outworked by Democrat Bob Ferguson. The Seattle Times went all out for GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, only to see Seattle voters provide the winning margin for Democrat Inslee.

The Stranger was formerly seen as a coveted endorsement, particularly for primary elections. A notable example was the Seattle weekly’s promoting of Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant. Lately, however, the paper (now only a website) has backed the loser in three successive Seattle mayoral elections. When Congressman-for-life Jim McDermott retired, and the Seventh Congressional District seat came open, a pair of Democrats fought it out. The editorial board backing Pramila Jayapal while bigfoot Stranger columnist Dan Savage went for opponent Brady Walkinshaw. 

At other times, endorsements can be telling. Longtime Republican backers of Herrera Beutler could not stand MAGA extremist Joe Kent, who upset Herrera Beutler in the primary two years ago. They publicly defected to the candidacy of Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez, elected to Congress in one of the year’s notable upsets.

 A decade ago, in Washington’s Fourth Congressional District, ex-U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton helped round up support for conventional conservative Dan Newhouse. Newhouse was pitted against Tea Party activist (and former NFL tight end) Clint Didier in an all-Republican general election. Kooky statements by Didier were displayed, helping Newhouse to a narrow win. Newhouse will need such help this year. He is facing a Trump-endorsed MAGA man, Jerrod Sessler, in this year’s election, as well as Tiffany Smiley, who ran against Sen. Patty Murray in 2022, but lost by 15 points.

Influential endorsements have changed over time. The National Rifle Association poured resources into beating back a 1997-gun safety initiative. Since then, aided by wealthy contributors,  gun control advocacy groups have passed three statewide initiatives. Last year, Washington became the tenth state to ban the sale and manufacture of assault-style weapons.

The green lobby has also demonstrated its clout. Washington Conservation Action has given a big boost to King County Council member Dave Upthegrove in his bid to succeed Franz as the state’s Commissioner of Public Lands. Days later, State Sen. Rebecca Saldana suspended her campaign for the job.

The activist group Fuse Washington has entered the game with its Progressive Voter Guide, identifying and profiling candidates endorsed by labor, environmental, and LGBTQ groups. Fuse provides a notable boost to contenders in such down-ballot races as city council and county commissioner. Its goal is shifting the local balance of power, demonstrated by rejection of an oil export terminal proposed for Vancouver and the big Gateway Pacific coal shipment port planned north of Bellingham.

 The endorsement game has produced one notable flop. Pramila Jayapal in the Seventh Congressional District has perhaps the safest U.S. House seat in the country, but the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has been unable to expand her base. Jayapal poured resources into the 2020 Sixth District congressional campaign of State Rep. Beth Doglio, who was soundly defeated by former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. An endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders failed to help Seattle mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez, easily beaten by Bruce Harrell.

Meanwhile, in the Sixth District, a battle of big Democratic names is brewing. Kilmer and ex-U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks are in the Franz camp, while Sen. Murray and Rep. Gluesenkamp-Perez are backing Randall. Voters from Tacoma to Cape Flattery will have to resolve the contest.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Bravo for Connelly for focusing us on what matters here. It is a game, with potentially big winners and losers in our 2025 Congress for Washington and the nation.

    Washington’s Sixth will draw much attention from local Puget Sound Dems, but Congress member Gluesenkamp-Perez in WA’s THIRD needs support from all Dem sides. She must be “up” on Portland-area TV (even if “no one” watches TV) as well as social media of all kinds, shapes and sizes. Time for what old pols call the “ground game” in that race, no matter who is running against her. She needs to win big. “Endorsements” usually cost elected “endorsers” nothing, unless they show up for fund-raising events with local groups, volunteers and boosters who, if asked, can build strength for the candidate. All VOTER CONTACT, as pols used to call it, needs to get behind this first termer.

  2. Mr. Connelly – I like to see what you have to say about a primary that has more than 30 candidates running for Governor, including three named Bob Fergusson. In the recent season of “Fargo”, there were four candidates named Roy Tillman, who was played by Jon Hamm, running for sheriff, so the race for Governor is reality imitating fiction. Shenanigans and hanky-panky – it’s a strange year. Reminds me of the Owl Party in 1976. Remember them?

  3. A couple of notable corrections: US Senator Patty Murray has been in office 31 years (since January 1993) and US Senator Maria Cantwell for 23 years (since January 2001). That’s a combined 54 years.

    Pramila Jayapal poured her resources into the 10th Congressional District race, supporting loser Beth Doglio (now back in the legislature) over big winner Marilyn Strickland. That’s not the only race Jayapal put her efforts into and failed. The one place she is constantly popular with is MSNBC.


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