March, 28th 2010

James Watkins for Congress memo: Inslee extremely vulnerable

– Liz Mair

The race to replace Rep. Brian Baird in Washington's third isn't the only one heating up, it looks like.  This weekend, I got word that James Watkins, a Republican running against Rep. Jay Inslee in Washington's first district, commissioned a poll on the race-- a poll that shows Inslee walking into his re-election bid extremely vulnerable.  Here's the text of the memo I received:

The James Watkins for Congress campaign has just commissioned a 1st Congressional District poll from Moore Information.  Jay Inslee should be worried, because the poll shows he is vulnerable…extremely vulnerable.

Attached is a memo from Moore Info’s Hans Kaiser discussing the results.  Here are some of the salient numbers:

  • Only 37% say Inslee deserves re-election
  • In a first head-to-head, Inslee gets 41%; Watkins gets 27%
  • In a second head-to-head, after hearing the two candidates’ backgrounds, Watkins gets 44%; Inslee gets 42%
  • 66% don’t know what Inslee’s greatest accomplishment is as a congressman
  • 64% describe themselves as fiscal conservatives

The conventional wisdom on Inslee has been that he’s pretty much a shoo-in, given his easy wins in recent cycles.  But these numbers put that notion to rest. 

Inslee’s status as a career politician and his close ties with the highly unpopular House Democratic leadership make him a prime target of voter ire this cycle.  James Watkins presents a strong challenge to Inslee:  his career as an entrepreneur and small businessman in the tech sector makes him attractive as a political outsider, while his government experience as an FDIC troubleshooter in the ‘90s assures voters that he’s not wet behind the ears.

Watkins is uniquely positioned to take Inslee on given voters’ overwhelming concerns about the economy.  Watkins can boast of having created jobs in the private sector, as well as having trimmed bureaucracy at the FDIC.  Meanwhile, Inslee is forced to defend a wretched economy and an exploding national debt.

Clearly, the 1st District is no exception to the national trend of discontent with the Democratic-controlled Congress.  And Jay Inslee, the career politician who has long dreamed of occupying the governor’s office, can no longer be so cavalier about the seat he hopes to make a launching pad for his gubernatorial ambitions.

Here's the text of the Moore Info memo referenced:

Results of our recent survey in Washington’s First Congressional District show clearly that Massachusetts is not the only place where Democrat fortunes have turned wildly since the 2008 elections.  Voters in the First Congressional District are negative about the direction of the country despite their strong support for Barack Obama and Jay Inslee during the 2008 election.  In fact, after six terms in office Inslee scores well below 50% on every standard measure of political strength.  Furthermore, in this district which Inslee carried in 2008 with 68% of the vote, the generic ballot now shows the parties in a statistical dead heat in the race for Congress with the Democrat candidate getting 34% and the Republican candidate 32%.

Inslee now finds his favorable rating at just 39%, his approval rating at 40% (just 17% strongly approve) and his reelect score at an anemic 37%.  Almost as many voters (33%) say it’s time for a new person.  To top it off Inslee barely gets over 40% in a head to head test against his challenger James Watkins, a political newcomer with almost no name identification.  Once respondents hear a brief bio description of each candidate, the race becomes a statistical dead heat, with Watkins at 44% and Inslee at 42%. Here’s what we found:

Direction of country:

Right direction: 42%

Wrong track: 47%

Don’t know: 12%

Generic Congressional ballot test:

Republican: 32%

Democratic: 34%

Neither/don’t know: 33%

 Inslee vote to reelect:

Deserves reelection: 37%

New person: 33%

Don’t know: 29%

Ballot test:

James Watkins: 27%

Jay Inslee: 41%

Neither/don’t know: 32%

Part of the dramatic change here can almost certainly be attributed to the fact that fully 64% of voters in the District describe themselves as fiscal conservatives (42% are “strong fiscal conservatives”).  Concerns about the mounting federal debt and Congress’ perceived inability to do anything about it has undoubtedly impacted these numbers. 

Finally, we asked an open ended question to gauge what voters see as Inslee’s greatest accomplishments as a Congressman.  The top answer -- offered by 66% of respondents -- was “don’t know.”  No other response was in double digits and the highest response other than “don’t know” was a negative one: “he hasn’t done anything.”   After 12 years in Washington Jay Inslee appears to have left the proverbial footprints in the sand.  


This memo contains the results of a telephone survey conducted among voters in Washington’s First Congressional District.  A total of 300 interviews were conducted March 23-24, 2010, by Moore Information, Inc.  The sampling error associated with this survey is plus or minus 6% at the 95% confidence level

In Inslee's last three elections for Congress, his share of the vote has topped 60 percent.  However, I know several Republican operatives who have worked in Washington State and with Republican members of Washington's congressional delegation who have consistently told me that Inslee is vulnerable (before Baird's announcement of his retirement, in fact, Inslee was by my estimation considered the second most vulnerable Democrat among Washington's congressional delegation).  That perception certainly seems to be borne out by some of these numbers.

I've reached out to folks who are close to Inslee today to see if they have any comment on this, and will update if I hear back from them. [intro]




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