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Sunday, November 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

James Vesely / Times editorial page editor
High tide: the suburban destiny of Washington

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It took a while, but the rising tide of suburban politics finally hit Puget Sound like a huge wave.

Republican Dino Rossi's 261-vote victory margin may or may not hold up in a recount, but either way, what's left is the high-water mark of the suburbanization of our state.

This is not about Republican or Democratic party lines. Democrats did well in several Eastside districts, including the retirement by ballot of a senior Senate Republican from Mercer Island, Jim Horn. Democrats can pick up seats here and there, but I suggest they can do that with the type of Democrat they run, and in metropolitan Seattle, that Democrat is suburban, not urban.

It's a matter of suburb-think. The difference is, when you are jangling your car keys, do you see your shopping destination as U-Village or North Bend?

In Snohomish, Kitsap and Pierce counties, the pace of suburban change is destiny. Suburban voters who went for Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Patty Murray also went for Rossi, and for Republican Rob McKenna as attorney general. Why?

At 6:30 Wednesday night in the hallway outside Dino Rossi's tiny headquarters in Bellevue, reporters could hear the clapping and whooping when the Benton County count came in with over 250 votes for their campaign. Later, in a cold courtyard next to a parking lot, Rossi spoke about the long day and the possibility of a historic win.

In fact, voters in Snohomish and Pierce counties were giving a plurality to a Republican governor for the first time since 1980, the night of the arrival of the Ronald Reagan presidency. Reagan was a Republican who carried once-Democratic suburbs, too.

James F. Vesely's column will resume Dec. 5

At Seattle's Town Hall, Democrat Christine Gregoire would later that night buck up her supporters and urge confidence in the face — and the hope — of a recount. Town Hall, that graceful building with encircling pews, the epicenter of urban, urbane Seattle, looked like the Alamo.

Rossi and McKenna are distinctly and artfully suburban. Their political base in Sammamish and Bellevue grew in the high-growth 1990s, a decade that now appears to be the defining pivot from city to non-city life in the region.

That shift is accelerated in Snohomish and Pierce counties. It was the suburbanizing Pierce County portion of the 8th Congressional District that kept that seat Republican. It is the growing suburbanization of Kitsap County across the water that makes it less and less a ferry stop to Seattle's urban center. It was traditionally Democratic Snohomish County that pivoted away from Gregoire.

While pollsters and political consultants talked about the "suburban crescent" that would go Republican or shift Democratic, I think we are all missing the point of the departure of the suburbs from city life. It just happened here later than in Eastern metropolises. The suburban voter is more independent — not many swing voters reside in Seattle — and less abiding of the urban agenda that dominated our state.

They can go centrist Democrat as they do for Congress with Reps. Jay Inslee and Adam Smith. They can go right of center with new member of Congress Dave Reichert. They are certainly looking for voices to represent them that are neither rural nor urban.

Talking with one of the more-seasoned politicians of the Sammamish Plateau Wednesday night — a group gloriously indifferent to Seattle — there was something of a realization that Puget Sound had changed, even if Seattle has not. He spoke of highs and lows over the years, but of those who know Sammamish well and have seen it evolve in the past dozen years.

Sammamish? Nobody in Seattle knows Sammamish. They don't know its life and its troubles or why people move there with aspirations and hopes for a life in suburban America.

James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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