Washington House Democrats
There only eleven weeks left in this joyless, passionless campaign season. Americans always complain about the negativity of campaigns and being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, but in the past there has been real enthusiasm for at least one Presidential candidate. Democrats were certainly excited to support Barack Obama four years ago, just as Republicans were enthused for George W. Bush in 2000, and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.
But this year, President Obama’s approval ratings have been consistently below 50 percent and Mitt Romney’s are even worse. Both campaigns are avoiding substance and specifics, focusing instead on relentlessly attacking the other. The negativity makes voters even less enthusiastic about the choice they have to make, as they continue to worry and wonder if the economy will ever recover. Has there ever been a more depressing campaign?
And yet there will be an election in 11 short weeks. Today the national polls are close, but President Obama leads in most of the critical battleground states. Republicans, however, lead slightly in the generic ballot. It appears the GOP will maintain control of the U.S. House, and has a fighting chance to win a majority in the Senate.
If the election were held today it would likely produce more gridlock in Washington, DC.
In this Washington it appears that the national atmosphere is favorable enough to allow Republicans to win back more of the ground they lost in the Democratic landslides of 2006 and 2008, but can they break through and elect Rob McKenna governor?
In most states the primary election simply decides the nominees of the two parties. In Washington however, the top two system, with no party filter, also serves as a rough poll, telling us which races are truly competitive. With virtually all ballots now counted, we now have a sense of where things stand in Washington state's critical races.
The Race: Governor.
The Verdict: For months polls have showed Republican Rob McKenna slightly ahead in the Governor’s race. Then Democrat Jay Inslee ran two flights of positive, biographical TV ads (as did McKenna) and it now appears Inslee has a slight advantage. This is based on the results of the primary, in which Inslee and one other D garnered 50.5 percent, while the combined Republican percentage was just over 47 percent. The last two public polls also showed Inslee slightly ahead.
McKenna is running an excellent campaign, but Inslee is benefiting from the generic advantage Ds enjoy in Washington state. Neither side has spent money defining the other yet. The McKenna campaign has a strong argument: Change is needed after 28 years of one-party control in Olympia. Still, they'll have to hope that that message is powerful enough to win over the independent and soft Ds needed to win.
For now, call this race a toss up.
The Race: U.S. House and Senate.
The Verdict: The primary confirmed what has been assumed all year: Senator Maria Cantwell and all Washington House incumbents are cruising to re-election, and Democrat Denny Heck is the overwhelming favorite to win the new 10th district.
In the open seat race in the 6th congressional district, Democrat Derek Kilmer won 53.5 percent of the primary vote. Bill Driscoll easily won the crowded Republican primary, with the combined GOP vote at 44 percent. Driscoll has the money to compete, but it is hard to imagine a message Driscoll could craft against Kilmer that would overcome the Democrat advantage in this district.
The real race is in the sprawling new 1st district. Democrat Suzan DelBene’s personal money helped her win the Democratic nomination, but now she faces Republican John Koster. This district was drawn to be a toss up between the two parties. Until we see some head to head polling let’s assume this race is dead even.
The Race: Attorney General.
The Verdict: In the primary, Democrat Bob Ferguson received 51.8 percent, while Republicans Reagan Dunn and Stephen Pidgeon garnered a combined 48.2 percent. Neither side spent money in the primary. To the public, this race is still undefined. It still appears that it will be very close in November.
While not unheard of, it is highly unusual for a candidate to overcome a 10 point primary disadvantage in Washington state. I have generally used that threshold to determine which races are still truly competitive.
In the state Senate, only four races appear competitive heading into the fall. Republicans will have to win at least three of those to gain a 25-24 majority. While that doesn’t appear likely, it does seem probable that the Senate will become more conservative overall, opening the door for Republicans to forge a working philosophical majority by partnering with a handful of “roadkill” moderate Democrats.
Republicans will pick up the open Democratic seat in the 25th district (Puyallup and Sumner). They need a net gain of two more to win a 25-24 majority.
The race: 10th Legislative District (Parts of Island, Skagit, and Snohomish counties); Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D) v. Rep. Barbara Bailey (R).
The verdict: Running head to head, Bailey led Haugen 53 to 47 percent in the primary. Haugen is a tough campaigner, but the 10th leans Republican.
The race: 1st Legislative District (Bothell, Northshore); Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D) v. Dawn McCravey(R).
The verdict: Washington voters will be voting on a Charter School initiative this fall and McAuliffe, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, is a strong ally of the teachers union and a vocal opponent of charters and other education reforms. McAuliffe easily beat her pro-Charter School Democrat opponent in the primary with a combined D vote of 58 percent.
But McCravey, a school board member, is a credible candidate. The 1st definitely leans Democratic, but if education reform groups continue to oppose McAuliffe and Senate Republicans spend big money here, McCauliffe will have a fight on her hands.
The race: 5th Legislative District (Issaquah, Sammamish plateau); Mark Mullet (D) v. Brad Toft (R).
The verdict: Mullet led Toft 53 to 47 percent in the primary. The 5th leans heavily Republican, but stories about lawsuits in Toft’s past have dogged his campaign and Mullet appears to be a very good candidate. The 5th is a major problem for the GOP.
The race: 17th Legislative District (Vancouver suburbs); Sen. Don Benton (R) v. Rep. Tim Probst (D).
The verdict: Benton led Probst 52 to 48 percent in the primary. Probst is an excellent campaigner, but so is Benton, and the 17th is a very Republican district.
All 98 seats are up and Republicans need a net gain of eight to take a 50-48 majority. With only 12 seats seriously in play, and four of those held by the GOP, a Republican takeover appears unlikely. But Republicans appear poised to gain House seats, just as they have in the past two elections.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!