Oct 27, 2022 - Politics

Democrats split over nonpartisan secretary of state candidate

Illustration of a donkey split in half.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Some Washington Democrats are objecting to their party's attacks on a nonpartisan candidate for secretary of state, calling the behavior of the state party chair in particular "surprising" and even "embarrassing."

Driving the news: Several prominent Democrats are publicly rebutting the claims that state party chair Tina Podlodowski has made against Julie Anderson, a nonpartisan who is challenging Democratic Secretary of State Steve Hobbs.

  • On Tuesday, state Sen. T'wina Nobles (D-Fircrest) posted a thread on Twitter explaining why she voted for Anderson, calling her a "faithful partner" in empowering Black voters, and sharing pictures of the candidate attending events for Planned Parenthood and registering high school students to vote.

The big picture: Democrats are eager to secure their hold on the secretary of state's office, which was in Republican hands for nearly six decades until Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Hobbs to fill a vacancy last year.

Yes, but: Several Democrats told Axiosor have publicly posted on Twitterthat Podlodowski and the state party have been making false or misleading claims in pursuit of that goal.

Details: Most of the outrage has been provoked by the party's attempts to paint Anderson, a longtime county auditor, as a secret conservative who opposes access to voting, or as someone who would potentially roll back progress on climate change.

  • Podlodowski also has privately chastised Democrats who have supported Anderson, several Democratic officials told Axios.

What they're saying: "She has really gone after the grassroots folks and local party people — and frankly, it is bizarre and embarrassing," said Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young.

  • "I would describe the written communications Tina has sent my way as surprising and a pretty gross overreaction," added Chad Harper, the vice chair of the 33rd Legislative District Democrats, who is supporting Anderson.

The intrigue: Some think it's really an interpersonal conflict.

  • Patti Dailey, a Democratic state committee member, said that during a recent conversation, Podlodowski falsely accused Anderson of being a Republican when trying to convince Dailey to not vote for her.
  • As evidence, Podlodowski cited Anderson's endorsement of Kim Wyman, the former GOP secretary of state, over Podlodowski when Podlodowski ran for the office in 2016, Dailey said.
  • “I told Tina, 'This is sounding really personal to me,” Dailey said. She described Podlodowski’s attitude as, “Well, she didn’t support me, and now I’m not going to support her.”

The other side: In a statement to Axios, Podlodowski wrote that "it is my job to do everything I can to elect the first Democrat in 56 years as Secretary of State, and I'm proud to do it." She didn't remark on some of the specific comments made about her.

  • A spokesperson for the state Democratic Party, Alex Koren, said Podlodowski and the state party are concerned about Anderson's policy views, including her proposal to make the secretary of state's office nonpartisan. Koren said such a change would make it easier for Republicans to get elected to the job in blue-leaning Washington state.
  • That dynamic is what the party was referring to in a tweet that criticized Anderson for posting a comment about the "glorious weather" at a recent outdoor fundraiser, Koren said. The tweet alleged Anderson's "policies would help elect MAGA Republicans who don't believe in climate change."

Some have responded that such an accusation against Anderson was odd, given Hobbs' opposition to a clean-fuel standard and other measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when he served in the state Senate.

  • Pierce County Councilmember Ryan Mello, who hosted the Oct. 7 fundraiser at his house, wrote in a message to Axios that it was "absurd" that the party wrote such a post to benefit someone who "single handedly stood in the way of any real climate progress in the state legislature for years."
  • State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, a Seattle Democrat who chairs the House Environment and Energy Committee, tweeted: "citing climate change as a reason to vote for ... checks notes ... Steve Hobbs."

What's next: Ballots went out last week and must be postmarked by Election Day to be counted — or they can be placed in an official ballot drop box through 8pm on Nov. 8.

What we're watching: Recent polls have shown Hobbs and Anderson locked in a close contest. But having a nonpartisan candidate on the ballot, plus the specter of a Republican write-in campaign, adds a layer of unpredictability.


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