Table is set for furious battle over state Senate control

Inside Politics: The Rodney Tom race will be so strange as to defy prediction. Republicans would like to do so well they can drop Democrats as coalition partners.
Drop-off voting

Drop-off voting Allyce Andrew

Sen. Rodney Tom during a public discussion of transportation (2013)

Sen. Rodney Tom during a public discussion of transportation (2013) Credit: John Stang

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

Toss-Ups:

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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Comments:

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 6:40 a.m. Inappropriate

"Normally the president’s party loses seats in off year elections, especially in the sixth year of a president’s tenure."

That's often-quoted political conventional wisdom regarding Congressional elections, but I've never heard it applied to the state Legislature.

Any data to back it up?

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 7:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Legislative races definitely follow national trends, if there is a national trend.

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

That's a pretty weak defense of your initial assertion, which contradicts the most apt historical parallel to the current situation. At Bill Clinton's six-year point, the Dems in the state Legislature gained seats - completely wresting control from a Republican majority in the state Senate.

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

In 1998 there was an aberrant national tide if favor of the Ds because voters were mad at the Gingrich Republicans. The leg races followed that tide. Remember, I said the President's party USUALLY loses seats in the 6th year.

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, the 48th District senate race is hard to predict -- Rodney Tom "running as" a Democrat, vs. mayor Joan McBride, a more-than-name-only Democrat.

You make no mention of what the Republican Party is going to do, so can we infer that they will not field a Republican-labeled candidate in this race? It is easy to see them continuing to support Sen. Tom, who clearly prefers that Republicans control the Washington State Senate, regardless of how he may label (mislabel) himself on the ballot.

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

A random Republican may file in the 48th, but I strongly suspect that the State Party and the Senate Republican campaign committees will not provide funding for a GOP candidate. I assume the business community will strong support Tom.

Posted Tue, Feb 11, 9:48 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't expect Republicans to find a serious opponent to DelBene and they surely are aware that Democratic polling showed her wih very strong support from independent voters in the district. On the eastern side of the state Joe Pakootas is drawing support from Spokane business folks who had previously backed McMorris Rogers and could make that race closer than it has been in recent years.

quiller

Posted Tue, Feb 11, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

I know for a fact a very serious Republican is very close to making a final go/no go decision in the 1st CD, and that the national GOP is very interested in this race. Pakootas has raised less than $10,000, as of 12/31/13. If the tribal PACs choose to fund this race that would be significant, but the 5th CD is too Republican for a D to be really competitive.

Posted Tue, Feb 11, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Rodney Tom bills the taxpayers $164 for Bose headphones, why isn't he wearing them in the picture? They better not be lost.

Posted Wed, Feb 12, 7:32 p.m. Inappropriate

"30th LD (Federal Way): Will veteran Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide run again? Will former Federal Way Mayor and Republican House member, Skip Priest, run? The district leans to the Ds, but if Priest runs and/or Eide chooses to retire, this race will move to the toss-up column."

I think it's important to note that the reason he's the former mayor is that they rather ran him out on a rail. I can't quite fathom the pivot it would take to get from that loss to a Senate win.

Ryan

Posted Wed, Feb 12, 10:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Priest is still well known and popular in FW. People win after losing all the time.

Posted Mon, Feb 17, 8:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Any opinion on the chances of breaking the Dem's hold on the 33rd District? The Republicans are putting Jeanette Burrage up against Mia Greggorson for House Position 2 and trying to line up candidates against Tina Orwall in the House and Karen Keiser in the Senate.

Posted Tue, Feb 18, 7:45 a.m. Inappropriate

The 33rd is now a very solid D district. Virtually no chance a Republican can win there.

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