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Inside Politics 2012: Power grab in Olympia will be stretch for GOP

In some ways, the numbers would favor Republicans in legislative races, but President Barack Obama's strength in this state and some strong Democratic candidates weigh against a changing of the legislative guard.
Washington state capitol: cutting season.

Washington state capitol: cutting season. Cacophony/Wikimedia Commons

With the filing period for candidates in Washington state over, we can really begin analyzing where the hot races are and how majorities may shift in the state House and Senate. The bottom line is, it appears likely Republicans will make gains in Olympia, but to actually take the majority in either house they will have to virtually run the table when it comes to competitive races.

Before looking at specifics, there are two points that must be made regarding legislative races.

First, legislative contests are heavily impacted by the big picture, national trends, and races at the top of the ticket. Even the most popular, well known legislator will be thrown out of office in a swing district if the national tide is running against his or her party. In addition, legislative candidates benefit greatly from get out the vote and other organizational activities generated by strong congressional and statewide campaigns.

In this regard, the playing field tilts slightly in favor of the Democrats. The presidential contest is competitive nationally, but it is highly unlikely the Romney campaign will spend much time or money in Washington state. President Barack Obama is likely to carry Washington, meaning Republicans in most of the battleground legislative districts will have to run several percentage points ahead of the top of the ticket. 

Organizationally, the McKenna campaign and the Republican Governor’s Association will be very helpful to Republican legislative candidates. But as recently as 2004, Washington state was targeted by both the Bush re-election campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (in support of Rep. George Nethercutt’s campaign against Sen. Patty Murray). That level of money and staff support will not be there for the GOP this year.

One bit of good news for Republicans is the fact that in the open seat race in the 6th congressional district (Tacoma, Kitsap, Olympic Peninsula) a serious Republican has emerged. Bill Driscoll has never run for office, but he is a retired Marine Corp officer and a member of the Weyerhaeuser family. He began the campaign by putting $500,000 of his own money into the race.  The 6th is still a likely Democratic district, but Driscoll appears to be far more viable than the Republican Party activists who had announced earlier, and this will aid GOP candidates in a few key competitive races for the Legislature.

Second, unlike almost any other level of campaigning, party insiders can move large amounts of money into a legislative race overnight, and local fundraising by individual candidates is much less important than it is in other races. PACs and party committees are important in races Congress, for example, but candidates are expected to raise roughly two-thirds of the money at home, from individual donors.

In highly competitive legislative races, on the other hand, the state parties, the caucus political committees, and Olympia PACs can, and often do, provide the bulk of the money. This means a candidate can raise very little money himself or herself, but if the party leadership decide to target a race they can move the money necessary to make it competitive.

Finally, polling is virtually non-existent in legislative races. Our next chance to handicap the legislature will come once we see the results of the August top two primary.

State Senate

In the state Senate, Democrats have unexpectedly been able to put enough Republican seats in play to greatly diminish the GOP’s chances to pick up the three seats they need for a 25-24 majority.

Democrats appear to be conceding their open seat in the 25th district (Puyallup and Sumner) to Republican Rep. Bruce Dammeier.  Republicans need a net gain of two more seats. There are seven Senate races that appear competitive or potentially competitive — but Republicans currently hold four of those seats. To win a majority the GOP will have to successfully defend four vulnerable seats, and defeat two of the three Democratic incumbents they are targeting.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, May 31, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Chris,

Thanks for your coverage. I agree with you that Sen. McAuliffe has her hands full, regardless if the GOP spends heavy or not. As I go door-to-door, it's abundantly clear to me that voters in the 1st are ready for new leadership. It's also very clear that voters are less concerned with party labels than they are with good ideas. They just want our leaders to move past partisan politics and to find real solutions to our problems.

I wanted to comment on one aspect of your coverage of the race in the 1st. I certainly am a strong voice for education reform and innovation. I am also for public, non-profit charter schools that are inclusive and accountable.

However, my top priorities for education are:

1) Funding all day kindergarten
2) Funding high quality, voluntary pre-k for 3 and 4 year old children. Especially in economically depressed areas.
3) Full funding the BEST program, or something like it, for all new teachers for the first 3 years on the job.
4) Fully funding the swift implementation of the new principal and teacher evaluation bill including the professional development needed to move the 1's and 2's up to be 3's and 4's.

The other priorities for my campaign are:

- To create jobs and economic development by focusing on the true job creators, small businesses.
- Treating state government like a business to make it more efficient and a better steward of our tax dollars.

See you on the campaign trail!

Guy

Posted Fri, Jun 1, 1:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Charter schools are a diversion of public resources to methods that on balance have poorer results (17% do better, 37% do worse, and the rest do about the same). I am glad in the 1st LD to have an incumbent Senator who recognizes this. I hope my fellow voters will look past Guy Palumbo's rhetoric to the facts, and support the true pro-education candidate, Rosemary McAuliffe.

cascadian

Posted Fri, Jun 1, 11:53 p.m. Inappropriate

There was one study done on charter schools that determined that 17% perform better than public schools, 37% do worse and the rest are about the same. And for the rest of eternity the status quo/anti-reform crowd will parrot that finding as if it was carved by God into stone tablets.

Reasonable voters, though, understand that while charter schools are not the only solution to our public education problem, they can be an important part of the solution. And the fact that some charter schools have underperformed in other states does NOT guarantee that all charter schools will fail here. In fact, it provides us an opportunity to learn, adapt and implement a better system! Don't fear change!

Aaron30

Posted Sun, Jun 3, 11:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Redistricting has changed every district in the state, legislative and congressional. Thus the most recent electoral returns are of less value than usual this year. The 25th in particular seems to have lost more Democrats than Republicans.

simorgh

Posted Mon, Jun 4, 6:39 a.m. Inappropriate

I absolutely considered redistricting in this analysis.

Posted Thu, Jun 7, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Chris, what are your thoughts on the open 3rd Senate district? Nancy McLaughlin is awfully conservative and it's a Democratic district, but she's seemed to have succeeded in spite of that in her council races. Could be a sleeper race.

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