Partisan elections for state and federal office run in six-year cycles, and this is definitely the quiet year for elections in Washington state. But the surface quiet conceals a storm that's brewing over control in Olympia.
Here's why: In 2014 there will be no U.S. Senate race, no statewide races for state office, and, at most, one seriously contested race for any of our 10 seats in the US House. For most of us, it may not feel like an election year at all. But if you live in one of the half dozen or so targeted state senate districts prepare for a lot of campaign noise. The battle for control of Olympia’s upper house is likely to be bitter, loud and very expensive.
Let’s start with the big picture. Will this be a year that favors Republicans or Democrats? It’s hard to tell at this point. Normally the president’s party loses seats in off year elections, especially in the sixth year of a president’s tenure. In addition, President Obama’s approval ratings are dismal, so 2014 should be a Republican year, right?
Not so fast. Republicans are even less popular than the president, with over 70 percent of Americans saying they disapprove of Republicans in Congress, the national voice and face of the GOP.
Americans are grumpy, negative and mad at both parties. There hasn’t been much generic ballot polling to track voters' general party preferences for this election done yet, but the polls that have been done doesn’t show a real trend favoring either party. This could easily change, but right now it appears that candidates will win or lose on their own, without a dominant national partisan tide.
All 10 of our current Washington members of Congress are apparently running for re-election. Republicans are still trying to recruit a serious candidate to run against freshman House member Suzan DelBene in the sprawling 1st district. Republican polling shows this district actually leans slightly Republican, and the GOP is rumored to have a serious candidate who is preparing to announce. The 1st district race may get interesting. Other than that, the action is in Olympia.
State Senate Outlook
On paper, Democrats still hold a 25-24 majority in the upper house. In reality, the Senate is controlled by the Majority Coalition Caucus, comprised of 24 Republicans and two Democrats, Rodney Tom of Bellevue (48th Legislative District), and Tim Sheldon from Shelton (35th LD). When you throw in two more very moderate Democratic senators who oppose higher taxes, Steve Hobbs from Lake Stevens (44th LD), and Brian Hatfield from Raymond, (19th LD), traditional Democrats only hold 21 seats in the Senate.
Democrats and their allies are still furious over the defection of Sheldon and Tom, and are desperate to gain the two seats they need to retake nominal control of the Senate. Republicans and their allies would love to pick up one more seat to give them control without the need for a coalition, but would happily settle for the status quo. Senate races have become ridiculously expensive, with serious people throwing around numbers over $1 million per contested race. Amazing.
Half of the state Senate seats are up for election every two years. This cycle the Democrats have more competitive targets to shoot at. They will be the team on offense, for the most part.
One key note: the classifications —“toss-up,” “lean Republican,” etc. — are as of today, and are very dynamic and subject to change as the year goes on.
Here is the outlook on competitive Senate races as the year begins
28th LD (Lakewood, University Place): Sen. Steve O’Ban (R) vs. Rep. Tami Green (D): O’Ban was elected to the House for the first time in 2012, and then appointed to the Senate soon after when Republican Sen. Mike Carrell passed away. Green has been elected to the House five times. Green is more familiar to voters, but the district leans slightly Republican. This is going to be a war.
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