With the statewide Republicans at the top of the primary ticket losing (Rob McKenna) and losing big (Reagan Dunn) despite an older, more conservative electorate widely presumed to lean more Republican than that which will vote in November, Democrats profoundly beat expectations. Their own expectations.
Recently I got my hands on the Inslee campaign's July 1 internal primary memo, explaining what they were expecting in yesterday's election and how they intended to spend resources. There's a lot of data and strategy stuff, and it was passed on in confidence, so I don't want to burn any bridges by posting the memo in its entirety, but needless to say Inslee's people fully expected McKenna to win the primary:
The bottom line is that while November elections make Washington a blue state, August looks more like a Republican primary. The best conceivable GOTV effort simply won’t increase turnout enough to put Jay in first place in the primary, but the race for governor today is between Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna, and on August 8th it will still be a race between Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna.
... History tells us the primary is an extremely steep hill and doesn’t determine the ultimate winner. We should stay focused on the fall, using the primary period to make an early investment in general election voters and score valuable first impressions with a meaningful paid media effort.
All campaigns play the expectations game, attempting to lower expectations ahead of primaries in an effort to make their win look bigger or their loss less ominous. But what is clear from this memo—essentially an internal justification for how they intended to spend their money—is that the Inslee campaign spent relatively big in advance of the primary, not because they expected to win it, but because they were focused on November: "Our general election plan includes early voter outreach, and the most effective time to start that outreach will likely be the weeks leading up to the primary."
It's a mistake to read too much into primaries as the primary electorate is often vastly different than the general electorate, and a lot can change between August and November. But across the board last night, Democrats beat their own expectations in statewide and legislative races, and that left a lot of Democratic insiders feeling good about their prospects for November.