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Some of WA's biggest Republican donors aren't from around here

KUOW Illustration/Kara McDermott

Homemakers and entrepreneurs, farmers and retirees: What unites them? These are some of the most frequently-held occupations among Republican donors in Washington state.

On Thursday, June 30, KUOWis hosting an event in Bellevue where we hope to bring Washington state Republicans together to discuss the present and future of their party.

Which raises a rather fundamental question: who are Washington's Republicans?

That’s not an easy question to answer. We started with donors to the Republican Party, beginning with data showing where these donors live.

For this article, we’re restricting ourselves to Senate and gubernatorial races from 2000-2016. More specifically, we’re using itemized individual contributions to the eventual Republican nominee, which allows us to look at the characteristics of individual donors.

The map below tells a few stories. In 2012, the year that saw the most money raised in this dataset, big donations were heavily concentrated on the Eastside, dominated by contributions to Rob McKenna. 

That year, the Republican nominee lost by 100,000 votes in the race for governor, but raised over $1 million more than Jay Inslee.

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In many years, most of the map is relatively blank or very light green -- few or no Republican donors, even in the eastern half of the state that is famously a Republican haven.

That’s because, while that region supports Republicans more heavily than the state as a whole, there’s a lot of land but not a lot of people.

Note that in many years, the other specks of green cluster around other Washington cities; Spokane, Yakima, Pascoand Walla Walla in particular.

This is something to keep in mind when evaluating any map-infographic. The tiny specks of Washington state that contain so much of its population appear dwarfed by the larger zipcodes where few people live. 

Keep this in mind on Election Night, when the returns roll in and the country inevitably looks like a vast red expanse, regardless of who’s winning more votes.

When we zoom in to the Seattle area, the picture becomes a bit clearer.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Credit KUOW/Abraham Epton; map tiles courtesy Stamen Design, map data courtesy OpenStreetMap", "fid": "127519", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201606/seattle_region_animation.gif", "attribution": "Credit KUOW"}]]

If you’ve lived in Washington for a while, this probably isn’t too surprising. Bellevue dominates; Seattle -- the biggest city in the region by far -- falls in its shadow when it comes to Republican donations.

The few Republican neighborhoods of the Emerald City hug downtown and the Ship Canal, but they’re all pale green pretenders compared to the true GOP jewels: Bellevue’s 98004 and 98005.

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Some years, big money comes to Washington from out of state.

Republican strategist Randy Pepple explained that “Senate races are targeted by national donors based on the likelihood that they will change parties.” And in 2004 and 2006, Republicans saw an opening.

You can see that reflected in the graph above: In 2004 and 2006, the Republican Senate candidate raised about 70 percent of his individual contribution money from inside the state, versus 96 percent in 2012 and over 99 percent in 2016.

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Republicans are an entrepreneurial bunch, and that’s reflected in this data.

“Self” was the largest employer category in three gubernatorial races, and so far it leads the 2016 Senate race as well. Along with “retired” and “homemaker,” “self” is consistently in the top three employer categories in most recent Senate races.

Microsoft is the largest corporate employer in each of the gubernatorial elections we looked at; except this year where Easterday Farms of Pasco currently has the lead. Perhaps that’s because eastern Washington farmers are already familiar with  Bill Bryant, given his firm’s work with local agriculture companies. 

In fact, seven of the top ten companies whose employees have donated the most to Bryant’s campaign so far are food and agriculture firms, and an eighth company is one he co-founded, BCI, which works with farmers to help them expand their trade opportunities.