Primary Prognostication: Handicapping the Senate races

A preview of the contests in 10 Senate districts that could be in play. As go these districts, so goes the Senate - and the state.
The Yakima River flows through the competitive 15th Legislative District.

The Yakima River flows through the competitive 15th Legislative District. Credit: Pat Strohsal/Flickr

When the primary results roll in next Tuesday, take a look at the numbers from the 15th Legislative District.

The 15th occupies the mid-Yakima Valley, stretching from the eastern fringes of Yakima to Sunnyside and Granger. What to look for is how well Democrat Gabriel Munoz polls against longtime Republican incumbent Jim Honeyford in the state senate race.

Demographically, the 15th has transformed from a white majority to a district in which no racial group can claim the majority. The primary will be a first peek at whether Eastern Washington's long-dormant Hispanic voting bloc will finally flex some muscle.

Both Honeyford and Munoz have deep roots in the 15th, so this could be a legitimate showdown between the district's numerous Republican-leaning conservatives and the possibly equally numerous, Democratic-leaning Latinos. Munoz has been getting the district's Hispanic residents to register in an attempt at an upset.

Munoz trails in fund-raising by a significant margin: $97,288 to $4,535. But if he comes remotely close to Honeyford next Tuesday, it means that up to 10 of the state Senate's 49 seats could be in play in November. (Seats in the rest of Washington's districts are safe for their GOP or Democratic incumbents.)

The stakes are high. The Republican-dominated Washington Senate is the only political body with the clout to stop Gov. Jay Inslee’s agendas on climate change, transportation and education. Inslee's proposals include raising taxes and closing tax breaks, which makes the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, an alliance of 24 Republicans and two Democrats, a vital safeguard for taxpayers or a stubborn barrier to progress, depending on your personal politics.

On Tuesday, only one of the 10 potential swing districts has a do-or-die battle: the 35th. The other nine are merely straw polls for Republicans and Democrats to gauge the strength of candidates in those swing districts. The number of legitimate swing districts could shrink after Tuesday.

The 35th consists of Mason County, southwestern Kitsap County and western Thurston County. It is the only three-way race among the 10 state senate swing districts. Tuesday will reduce those three challengers to two. Democrat Tim Sheldon, the only Democrat who wants to remain in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, is up against Democrat Irene Bowling and libertarian Republican Travis Couture. Sheldon, also a Mason County commissioner, has won nine straight elections (for state representative, state senator and Mason County commissioner). But Tuesday’s primary is the first election since Sheldon decamped to join the majority coalition.

His opponents, Bowling and Couture, hope they can trim enough votes from the right and left of Sheldon to put him in third place in a three-way race. If Sheldon places in the top two, he will likely pick up most of the votes of the third-place finisher. Bottom line: Anyone picking up one third of the primary ballots would need just one extra vote to be guaranteed a spot in the November election.

Overall, the GOP is playing defense.

With Sheldon and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, the majority coalition had a 26-to-23 advantage over the minority Democrats. That means the minority Democrats have to pick up two seats to regain control of the Senate. Right now, only two of the 10 potential swing district seats are held by minority Democrats; eight are held by members of the Majority Coalition Caucus, including Sheldon and Tom.

Consequently, the minority Democrats must hold on to their two seats and knock off two coalition members. If the Democrats lose one of their two seats, then they must win three of the remaining eight.

Here's a rundown of those eight other potential Senate swing districts.

6th District
Southern and western Spokane, Cheney, Fairchild Air Force Base, and rural Spokane County

Longtime Spokane resident, filmmaker and Democrat, Rich Cowan is going against incumbent super-conservative Republican Michael Baumgartner in this district which leans toward the GOP. Democrats hope Cowan's deep roots and Baumgartner's very conservative stances will make the Republican vulnerable. Republicans disagree with that portrayal. Both sides are pumping a lot of money into this race: Baumgartner has raised $329,255 so far, Cowan has amassed $136,662.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Aug 1, 8:26 a.m. Inappropriate

I think you're stretching a bit on what can reasonably be considered potentially close senate races in the 15th, 26th and 44th Districts.

"Demographically, the 15th has transformed from a white majority to a district in which no racial group can claim the majority." True, but it's the demographics of Registered Voters that counts, linked obviously to which people actually turn out and vote. The Democrats will need a huge increase in voter registration and turnout to swing the senate election in the 15th LD; is there any evidence of that happening?

The 36th LD does tend to be a classically 'swing district' but in this case you need to look at the candidates. Nathan Schlicher gave Jan Angel a good run for the money in last years special election and probably would have closed that gap if he'd had a bit more time, but this years Democratic candidate, Judy Arborgast, doesn't have the resources Nathan did and is facing a well-entrenched incumbent. Jan Angel has been on the ballot in the South Kitsap part of that district (which also covers Pierce County north of the Tacoma Narrows) for more than a decade and has never lost a race in spite of her well-earned reputation of being a less-than-hard-working legislator (she once ditched a Special Session of the Legislature to go on a European cruise).

A similar situation exists in the 44th LD, where Sen. Steve Hobbs is an incumbent who's well-matched for the district. The Republicans claiming that this seat is in play doesn't make it so, any more than the Democrats' wishful thinking in the 15th (notwithstanding any amazing voter registration and turnout as previously addressed).

Posted Fri, Aug 1, 8:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Apologies for the typo in my third paragraph above - I meant to reference the 26th LD, not the 36th.

Posted Fri, Aug 1, 1:43 p.m. Inappropriate

"26th District"

"Southern Kitsap County"


The 26th District is not just southern Kitsap County. Roughly half if it is northern Pierce County, covering the Key and Gig Harbor Peninsulas.

dbreneman

Posted Sat, Aug 2, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

This story should be re-read on August 7. The tendency of journalists to look for close contests when most predict landslides may be in evidence here IMHO.

In November 2012 the Republican incumbent House members got 61% and 100%, in a more Democrat year with higher turnout than is expected on Tuesday. That may be a "competitive" district by Seattle standards, but it's not going to produce an upset.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 12:50 p.m. Inappropriate

There is evidence of a huge increase in voter registrtion in the 15th district most especially among Hispanic and Native American voters. Will that be enough to flip this district in 2014? I doubt it but it will be a closer race that most expect.

quiller

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