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Post-primary puzzler: Why did single-issue candidate Rob Hill do so well in Southwest Washington?

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Aug. 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
August 9, 2012 3:23 pm

Rob Hill admits his narrow focus in the voters pamphlet: “I’m running for Governor on a single platform: I want to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $10.00 per pack.”

And like many other candidates who run not to win but to deliver a message, Hill received a sprinkling of votes – 3.72 percent overall.

But while looking at the county by county spread between Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna I noticed that Inslee’s percentage was lower than average in Clark County but McKenna’s wasn’t higher. While the Republican took a plurality there, it was a 44 percent to 33 percent ratio.

Democratic candidate for governor Rob Hill (AP/Washington Secretary of State)y

Then I looked at the other candidates and saw that Hill received almost 12 percent of the vote in Clark County. The neighboring counties also gave Hill numbers that were double and triple his statewide average – almost 17 percent in Cowlitz, 12.5 ipercent n Klickitat, 14.32 in Skamania, 11.5 in Wahkiakum, 8 in Pacific. And then just as the bulge appeared, it disappeared at the next county up – 3.38 percent in Lewis County.

So, what explains the juggernaut that is Rob Hill in Southwest Washington.

I checked in with some fellow newsies and Stevie Mathieu of The Columbian in Vancouver first recognized that the counties where Hill did well share something – they are the Washington state counties that are in the Portland television market. And neither major candidate purchased advertising time on Portland TV stations.

So, it could be that with less exposure to the TV ads by both candidates, their name familiarity was less (though McKenna, who has run statewide twice previously might have better recognition there than Inslee. Some voters looking for a Democrat and without deep familiarity with Inslee might have stopped at the first Democrat on the ballot – Rob Hill.

I asked Hill what he thought.

“I’m not sure,” he wrote. “Maybe they just agree with my cigarette tax platform.”

Maybe. But I can’t figure why voters in that part of the state would have more sympathy for that cause than others. Hill drew just 2.19 percent in King County, 2.8 percent in Pierce County.

Absent exit polling it might be impossible to ever know what went into the decision making of thousands of voters. But it might be explained by the unusual political micro-climate that is the Southwest corner of the state.

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