Deborah Senn appears to have pulled off a narrow victory over Mark Sidran in the Democratic primary for attorney general. If her victory holds up, though, a county-by-county examination of election results indicates it was due more to vestigial name recognition than broad Democratic support for the former state insurance commissioner.

In the large counties of the Puget Sound, where Democratic votes are concentrated and where Sidran and Senn are well known, Senn trailed, losing Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston counties. In King County, which alone accounts for more than a quarter of the state's Democratic votes, Sidran easily bested Senn, carrying 55 percent of the vote.

Senn won anyway by rolling up huge margins in conservative southern and Eastern Washington where, as a former statewide-office holder, she enjoyed a name-recognition advantage and where neither candidate campaigned extensively. In Yakima and Clark Counties, for instance, Senn creamed Sidran by a greater than 2-to-1 margin. She rolled up nearly the same margin in Spokane County.

As Sidran campaign manager Tim Killian puts it, "Deborah won everywhere she didn't campaign." In those areas, voters knew little about Sidran, and likely tagged him, mistakenly, as the liberal in the race based on his previous job as Seattle city attorney.

This is not good news for Senn, who ran as a Democrats' Democrat against Sidran, an establishment, law-and-order candidate who at times sounds more like Richard Nixon than John Kerry. Unless Senn can consolidate the support of pro-Sidran moderates and independents in her Puget Sound base--and quickly--she will face an uphill struggle in her impending general-election showdown with King County Council member Rob McKenna, a wily Republican who has already begun to stake out the center.

Case in point: McKenna's post-primary move to defuse the abortion issue, which Washington Democrats routinely use as a cudgel against Republicans. During the primary, McKenna dodged NARAL Washington head Karen Cooper as she pushed to pin him down on his abortion views. The day after the primary, however, McKenna called Cooper to articulate his position that abortion is a settled issue in Washington State and to assure her he will not move to restrict abortion should he become attorney general, according to McKenna campaign manager Craig Wright.

If Senn loses the Sidran vote to McKenna, she's toast.

Senn spokesperson Karen Besserman says there's no cause for concern. Senn's numbers in the Puget Sound were depressed by the last minute anti-Senn advertising blitz funded by business interests, Besserman says. "Mark is a Democrat, and those votes are going to come to us," she predicts.

sandeep@thestranger.com

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