Can a write-in candidate actually win?
The level of dissatisfaction in today's political climate is undeniably high. More and more it seems that voters are unhappy with their remaining options post primary and look for someone else to vote for......enter the write-in candidate.
The odds are long
Washington State does not make it easy to run as a write-in. You do not appear on the ballot, you do not get to submit for the voter's pamphlet, and if you don't reveal your intention to run by at least 19 days before election day you need to pay a filing fee. Washington State also has another wrinkle. If you run in the primary for a position and lose, by law you can't run as a write-in for the same race. The six men that ran in the primary for the 4th Congressional race and lost legally cannot run as a write-in candidate in the general election for the same position.
...........but they can for another
In 2020 Joshua Freed ran a high profile campaign for Governor, finishing third in the primary. The race for Lieutenant Governor placed two Democrats, Deny Heck and Marko Liias, in the general election. Freed was encouraged to mount a write-in campaign for that race and was backed by the Washington State Republican Party. The idea being a Republican running against two Democrats has a chance to win. The percent of voters that wrote in a name in that race in 2020 was 20.88%. All of those votes can't be awarded to Freed because Bugs Bunny has been known to garner a vote or two as a write-in, so the actually amount of votes cast for Freed is unknown, but it's fair to say it was less than the full 20.88%.
The reality is.......
I found one candidate that successfully ran a write-in campaign in Washington State. In 2011 in the town of Pacific, Cy Sun defeated the sitting Mayor, Rich Hildreth, as a write-in candidate 464-401. More often than not, write-in candidates wage a fine effort that falls short of expectations. Also in 2020 in Franklin County, a write-in campaign was waged in the District 1 Commissioners race. The write-in candidate raised nearly $30,000, spending almost all of it in an effort unseat the incumbent in the general election. The write-in actually out-raised all of the candidates in that race, primary and general combined and received 17.32% of the vote. The incumbent retained their seat.
There is another write-in campaign this year for Secretary of State with rumors that there could be another write-in entry in yet another race. Because of the odds and overall lack of success in Washington State with these type of campaigns a fair question to ask in each case a write-in emerges is: Is the candidate running to win the race or is the candidate running to cost someone else the race? Both are plausible and an argument can be made the latter might have a higher rate of success than the former.