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.
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.
Competitive/Potentially Competitive Democratic Seats:
10th District (Parts of Island, Skagit, and Snohomish counties) Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D) v Rep. Barbara Bailey (R): Rep. Barbara Bailey will challenge Haugen who has served in Olympia since 1982. Bailey was elected to the House in 2002. The 10th is made up of parts of the northwest Puget Sound and leans Republican.
This will be a war and potentially one of the most expensive legislative races in state history: Leaning Republican.
1st District (Bothell, Northshore) Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D) v Dawn McCravey(R): Republicans tried to recruit Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb to run against McAuliffe. Instead the candidate is Dawn McCravey, a member of the Northshore School Board. McAuliffe is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee and is considered a close ally of the Washington Education Association. Before facing McCravey, McAuliffe needs to get past fellow Democrat Guy Palumbo who is running as a pro-education reform Democrat in favor of charter schools.
The 1st definitely leans Democratic, but if the education reform groups and the Senate Republicans choose to spend big money here, McAuliffe will have a fight on her hands. Leaning Democrat.
19th (Grays Harbor, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties) Sen. Brian Hatfield (D) v Rick Winsman (R): Republicans think they can break through and win a race in the very rural 19th. Hatfield has served in the House and Senate since 1994 and has never faced a tough race. Winsman recently retired as the CEO of the Longview-Kelso Chamber of Commerce. If the Senate Rs truly decide to target this race it will be competitive. Leaning Democrat.
Competitive/Potentially Competitive Republican Seats:
5th (Issaquah, Sammamish plateau) Mark Mullet (D) v Brad Toft (R): The 5th produced the big shock of filing week. Veteran Republican Sen. Cheryl Pflug filed for re-election, and then withdrew at the last minute when the governor appointed her to the Growth Management Hearings Board, a full-time state job paying over $92,000 a year. Mullet is an Issaquah City Council member, has raised over $60,000, and appears to be a strong candidate. Toft, a businessman and civic activist, had filed earlier and becomes the de facto Republican candidate.
The 5th leans heavily Republican, but what kind of a candidate is Toft? At this point the 5th is a toss up.
17th (Vancouver suburbs) Sen. Don Benton (R) v Rep. Tim Probst (D): The 17th is a very Republican district, but Tim Probst is the one Democrat who has survived there, and now he has decided to run against veteran Republican Don Benton. You have to give Benton the advantage based on the district, but this could be quite a battle. Leaning Republican.
28th (Lakewood, University Place) Sen. Mike Carrell (R) v. Yoshie Wong (D): Carrell was elected to the House in 1994, and has served in the Senate since 2004. He has narrowly survived several close elections in the 28th, which is a district that leans towards Democrats. Wong is a Steilacoom School Board member. She is getting a very late start, but if the Senate Democrats decide to invest money here they can put Carrell under pressure. Leaning Republican.
41st (Mercer Island, south Bellevue) Sen. Steve Litzow (R) v Maureen Judge (D): The conventional wisdom is that moderate Litzow is safe due to his high profile support for same sex marriage. Perhaps. But the 41st leans pretty heavily to the Ds, and Judge, as the former executive director of the Washington Toxics Coalition, has the resume of a serious candidate. If the Democrats are willing to spend the money they can make this race competitive. Leaning Republican.
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