EPHRATA — Embattled Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Cle Elum, has survived a tumultuous and controversial election season to again win the seat he has held since 2012, beating back a long list of sexual misconduct allegations, an unexpectedly strong opponent and over $100,000 in attack ads. At last count, Manweller was leading Democratic challenger Sylvia Hammond by about 28 points.
Kittitas County gave Hammond her best showing with about 46 percent of the vote, but she lost in all four counties within the 13th Legislative District. Though Hammond lost, it was by a narrower margin than Democrats have enjoyed in decades.
Running in a district that has historically gone heavily in favor of Republicans, this race was Manweller's to lose. However, when discounting the strong conservative affiliations of the 13th District, Hammond paradoxically had every conceivable advantage.
Her opponent was plagued by sexual harassment allegations stemming from his time as a high school teacher, a professor at Central Washington University and an elected official. The most recent, in which a woman accused Manweller of statutory rape when he was a high school teacher and she was his former student, was quickly followed by state House Republican leadership calling on Manweller to resign.
Manweller declined to resign immediately and instead promised to resign if re-elected. If Manweller now follows through with his promise, county Republican parties and commissioners will appoint a replacement to serve out a portion of the lawmaker's term. Hammond had campaigned heavily on this prospect, telling voters that a vote for Manweller was a vote for a “ghost,” a “shadow,” or a “unicorn,” because voters would have no say besides party affiliation on the person who would ultimately represent them.
Only weeks before, CWU chose to fire Manweller from his tenured position as a professor of political science after the university's third investigation into allegations of sexual harassment found that Manweller had “engaged in a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior.” Manweller has denied any wrongdoing and is currently suing both CWU and the lead investigator who filed the report.
But many voters rejected the allegations against Manweller, calling them a spurious attack on Manweller's character by Democrats. This largely mirrored the national conversation regarding the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a comparison made directly by Manweller. At one time or another, Manweller also described the attacks against him as McCarthy-esque and reminiscent of the Gestapo.
After seeing election results come in, Hammond said that she was disappointed that the issue had become partisan and that many voters didn't appear to be swayed by the allegations against Manweller.
“I'm disappointed that there was a lot of unusual events that happened, and perhaps voters weren't willing to look past their party and vote the candidate that might be the best for the district,” Hammond said in an interview with the Columbia Basin Herald.
The race was also marked by unprecedented independent spending, with the Enough is Enough PAC spending over $100,000 on attack ads against Manweller, mostly in the form of mailers. Before the PAC entered the arena, Manweller had maintained a sizable advantage over Hammond, with his campaign raising roughly $60,000 more than Hammond by election day.
For herself, Hammond was a candidate with an extensive history in the region, having had farmed potatoes for decades and spent several years as a substitute teacher in Ephrata.
But Hammond was unable to shake the perception that she was in favor of sweeping gun control regulations, which stemmed from a social media post the Democrat made months before filing to run for office, despite efforts to reassure voters that her mind had changed on the subject in the intervening months. She was also dogged by claims that she was a liberal Democrat better suited for Seattle than Grant County, including a Facebook page created by Manweller called “Sylvia Loves Seattle.”
Whatever the deciding factors may have been, Hammond outperformed Democratic candidates running in the region in the last several decades, though she ended the night Tuesday with around 35 percent of the vote.
Despite her loss, Hammond said that she was encouraged by the efforts of her volunteers and the voters that had rallied around her campaign.
“Seeing that participation and seeing people get excited about a campaign and seeing them vote to do good things for our area and our nation, that's really encouraging to see,” Hammond said.
Vote tallies will be counted for days and won't be certified by the state until Dec. 7, but as of the end of Tuesday night, Manweller has garnered a large enough lead to practically guarantee his victory. After the primary, vote counts shifted towards Manweller over the course of several days before reverting back to Hammond – though Manweller ended the day Aug. 7 with around a 28-point lead, that lead grew to almost 30 points before retracting to the final 26.5-point lead.