White House/Pete Souza
Since the 1994 Republican tidal wave, Democrats have dominated Washington state politics, particularly during the five elections when George W. Bush defined the Republican Party. Democrats elected and re-elected governors, senators, and members of Congress. In Olympia, they built up huge majorities in both houses of the legislature.
Now, four months out from Election Day 2010, Republicans are in position to take back much of what has been lost the past ten years — if the GOP's national wave is big enough.
The filing period is over and the Republicans have put an impressive team on the field. In Dino Rossi they have their strongest possible candidate at the top of the statewide ticket. They are favored to pick up one Democratic congressional seat, and have a realistic shot at at least one more. They have recruited strong candidates for virtually every competitive seat in the state House and Senate.
The president's party almost always loses ground in off-year elections. The question is, will Republicans make modest gains, or will there be a landslide that actually results in the GOP taking majorities in Olympia and Washington, D.C.? And will the wave actually be big enough to oust Democrats like U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen?
William Galston, writing for The New Republic, does a good job looking at the recent evidence and warns the Democrats to prepare for losing the U.S House. Still, the polling data at this point is inconsistent. President Obama's approval rating remains at 48 percent, pretty much where it has been all year.
More significant is the generic has consistently shown the Republicans with a lead of between 5 and 10 points.
Gallup's poll of registered voters, however, has been consistently inconsistent. A month ago the two parties were tied. The next week Republicans had a 6-point lead, the largest lead the GOP had ever enjoyed in the Gallup poll. The next week the parties were tied again. The next week the GOP was up by 5 points, then there was another tie. Last week, Republicans were ahead by 5 percent, and now this week there is another tie. So what is really going on?
This disparity is extremely significant. If the generic ballot polling is dead even on Election Day, Republicans will make only modest gains. But if the GOP heads into the election ahead by 5 to 10 points, Patty Murray and every suburban Democrat will likely be swept away. Watching the generic ballot numbers will be fascinating the rest of this year.
There were no surprises in filings for federal office. The next big benchmark for those seeking to go to Washington, D.C. will come in mid-July when we get new fund-raising totals.
Fifteen people have filed for the U.S. Senate, but only two names matter: Dino Rossi and Patty Murray. Sarah Palin's endorsement of Clint Didier has made him the champion of conservatives (and liberals) who want to derail Rossi; and in a closed party convention or primary system Didier might give Rossi heartburn. But the recent Elway poll showing the unknown Didier with only 5 percent of the vote confirms that in our wide open top-two system, Rossi and Murray are shoe-ins in the August primary.
As for November, national analysts list the race as a toss-up, and all the polls confirm that. Unless Rossi or Murray makes a major mistake, this race is going to be determined by national events and trends.
The House races break down this way.
Safe Republican: Doc Hastings, 4th Congressional District, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, 5th District.
Likely Republican: Dave Reichert v. Suzan DelBene in the 8th District: Timing is everything, and this is the wrong year to challenge a Republican incumbent who survived 2006 and 2008.
Lean Republican: That's the 3rd Congressional District, where Democrat Denny Heck has done an impressive job racking up money and endorsements and driving his two serious Democratic opponents out of the race. David Castillo is still running hard on the Republican side. But recent polling by Moore Information shows that Republican Jaime Herrera is the favorite to go to Congress.
The Third District was won by George W. Bush in 2000 and '04 and Dino Rossi in '04 and '08, and today the district shows a seven-point GOP lead on the generic ballot:
If the election for U.S. Congress were held today, would you be voting for the Republican candidate or Democratic candidate?
Republican: 42 percent
Democratic: 35 percent
Neither: 3 percent
Depends/don’t know: 20 percent
Importantly, independent voters also favor a Republican, by a 3-to-1 margin.
Among voters who prefer a Republican for Congress, Jaime Herrera has a wide lead over David Hedrick and David Castillo: Herrera is favored by 27 percent, Hedrick by 8 percent, and Castillo by 8 percent. Forty-nine percent are undecided.
Further, a Republican candidate who will act as a check and balance in Congress against Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi is favored on this question:
Who would you prefer to represent you in Congress? A Republican member of Congress who will be a check and balance to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, or a Democrat member of Congress who will help Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats pass their agenda?
Those favoring a Republican as a check and balance to Obama were 49 percent, as opposed to 41 percent wanting a Democrat to help him. Another 10 percent were undecided.
Lean Democratic: That's the 2nd Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Rick Larsen faces John Koster. The 2nd is a competitive district and Koster is a strong, credible candidate. It will be interesting to see if he maintained his fundraising momentum during the second quarter of 2010.
Likely Democratic: Jay Inslee, 1st District, and Adam Smith, in the 9th. We will find out in July if any of the Republicans running against these two suburban Democrats are on a fundraising pace to make these races truly competitive.
Safe Democratic: Norm Dicks, in the 6th District, and Jim McDermott, 7th District.
State legislative races
Filing is over and now the battles for majorities are coming into focus. Republicans have filed strong candidates all over the state, giving them a chance to ride a national wave into power, or at least relevance, in one or both houses of the legislature.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!