Soaring gas prices, crime rates and homelessness: How will parties position themselves locally headed into primaries?

Early returns from this year’s midterm elections and public opinion polls point to the rising costs of goods, public safety and homelessness dominating political discussion headed into the primaries.

The outlook in Spokane mirrors that seen in urban areas across the nation, with soaring prices at the pump, rising rates of crime and a greater number of people seeking shelter on the streets. Those issues, combined with the usual disadvantage the political party in power experiences in midterm elections, signify an uphill battle for Democrats, political observers say.

“You go in with that sort of bad potential – a bad economy – and you add heightened concern about public safety, that’s an issue Republicans seem to own,” said Todd Donovan, a professor of political science at Western Washington University and a member of the Whatcom County Council.

Other observers have seen issues such as the Legislature’s action on police reform brought to bear in local races, often suggesting that support for changes in the way officers perform their jobs are linked with the political buzzword phrase of “defund the police.”

Those appeals are emotionally powerful, Donovan said, even if the logical link between reforms and increased crime are suspect.

“It’s kind of like the Legislature threw them a softball,” he said. “Whether or not the crime increasing is associated with those bills is highly contestable. But that’s what the message has been.”

Donovan pointed to examples in news releases from law enforcement about crime investigations making reference to changes in state law, evidence that he has seen in Western Washington that has been seen in Spokane. In December, Spokane Valley police issued one of many news releases announcing an investigation into burglaries that said a pursuit of a suspect in the area had been terminated “due to the recent state legislative reform laws.” The truck was later found abandoned nearby, and an arrest was made.