Vance Report: Early lines on 2010 races

It's not looking like the 1994 Republican tidal wave in Washington state, but it's getting close. For now, figure Sen. Murray to win, the GOP to pick up a Congressional seat in the Third, and Rick Larsen to cling to his seat in the Second.
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With enthusiasm for the Democratic administration waning, some of Washington's congressional and legislative 2010 races could be challenging for Democrats.

It's not looking like the 1994 Republican tidal wave in Washington state, but it's getting close. For now, figure Sen. Murray to win, the GOP to pick up a Congressional seat in the Third, and Rick Larsen to cling to his seat in the Second.

At the national level, there are numerous places on the internet where a political junkie can go to watch the election season unfold. Here at home there is far less information about Washington state races, especially races for the legislature. During 2010, I am going to try to fill some of that void with a regular roundup of news on polling, candidate recruitment, and fundraising, with some analysis thrown in.

One very important caveat: in politics the only constant is change. This is how things look today; but the election is still 10 months away.

During presidential years, elections are always 'ꀜnationalized,'ꀝ meaning the tide at the top of the ticket heavily influences down-ballot races for the legislature and other offices. Off-year elections, on the other hand, may or may not be nationalized. Sometimes there is very little tidal pull, and candidates win and lose based entirely on their campaigns and local factors.

Does anyone doubt that 2010 is shaping up as a national referendum on the Obama administration and one party control of Congress and Olympia? Clearly, Democratic losses in the Virginia and New Jersey governor'ꀙs races and the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat signal an ominous trend for the majority party. Today, the question isn'ꀙt, will the Democrats lose seats? The question is, can the Republicans pull off another 1994 and take majorities in Congress and the Legislature? How big will the wave be?

Looking at polling now, this doesn'ꀙt appear to be a 1994 tidal wave, but it's getting close. Republicans today hold a 2 percent lead in the congressional generic ballot. In the closing days of 1994, the GOP advantage was roughly 5 percent. Today, President Obama'ꀙs approval rating is at 49 percent. Just before the 1994 election, President Clinton'ꀙs approval rating was 46 percent, according to Gallup. Democrats need to hope January is their low-water mark.

Federal races

U.S. Senate

Sen. Patty Murray begins 2010 with close to $5 million in the bank (according to the September 2009 Federal Election Commission report) and a gaggle of Republicans chasing her, none of whom possess name familiarity or the demonstrated ability to raise money. The GOP hasn'ꀙt given up on this race, however, and party leaders are trying to persuade Susan Hutchison to get in the race. Murray'ꀙs favorable rating has fallen with the rest of the Democrats in recent months, and Hutchison has name ID and access to campaign money. In this atmosphere anything is possible, but for now this race remains Democrat.

U.S. House of Representatives

Safe Republican races: There are two safe GOP candidates: Doc Hastings, in the 4th Congressional District, and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers in 5th.

Republican: Dave Reichert, 8th district. The 8th is too volatile to call Reichert safe at this point. And his Democratic opponent, Suzan DelBene, is raising a lot of money. But if Reichert could survive anti-Republican tides in 2006 and 2008 he should be fine this year.

Leaning Republican: The 3rd Congressional District should go Republican this year. This southwest Washington district went for Dino Rossi in 2004 and 2008, Bush won it in 2004, and Patty Murray only got 50 percent of the vote there in 2004. There are a number of Republicans running, but the presumptive nominee is State Rep. Jaime Herrera. The Democrats will nominate a strong candidate from a field that includes former House Majority Leader Denny Heck, State Sen. Craig Pridemore, and State Rep. Deb Wallace. In this atmosphere you have to give the edge to Herrera and the Republicans.

Leaning Democratic: Rick Larsen, 2nd district. The GOP got the candidate it wanted in Snohomish County Councilmember John Koster. Koster is getting a late start for a congressional challenger, and the 2nd isn'ꀙt as Republican as the 3rd. But Koster nearly won this seat in 2000, and any race outside King County looks dicey for the Ds right now. Let'ꀙs see how Koster'ꀙs fundraising goes in the first quarter of 2010.

Democratic: Jay Inslee, 1st CD, and Adam Smith, 9th CD. Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri is running for the GOP in the 9th, but the Republican tide is going to have to get even higher in order to sweep away Smith and Inslee.

Safe Democratic: As with Republicans, there are two safe House members among the Democrats: Jim McDermott in the 7th (Seattle) and Norm Dicks in the 6th (Tacoma and beyond).

State Legislative Races

The battle for the legislature doesn'ꀙt begin in earnest until after the legislative session ends in March. Candidate recruitment is far from complete. The picture, however, is beginning to come into focus.

With a huge budget deficit to deal with, the Democrats are going to have to raise taxes and/or cut spending to balance the budget. Combine those unpopular choices with an unfavorable national tide and a lot of potentially vulnerable seats to defend, and it is clear the Ds are on the defensive in Olympia.

It is important to understand that in addition to the money candidates can raise, the four legislative caucuses (House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the like) are each allowed to have two political action committees. These caucus campaign committees are critical in funding legislative races.

One key indicator in each district is the result for governor in 2008. Any district Dino Rossi won while he was losing statewide in 2008 ought to lean Republican in this Republican-leaning year.

State Senate

Twenty-four of 49 Senate seats are up for election this year, with the Democrats having to defend 18 seats while the Republicans only have six seats up. The Senate Democrats have roughly $260,000 in their two caucus political committees, while the Senate Republicans have roughly $180,000 in the bank. The Democrats currently have a huge 31-18 advantage in the Senate.

Safe Republican seats: Bob Morton, 7th Legislative District; Jerome Delvin, 8th; Janea Holmquist, 13th; Jim Honeyford, 15th. All these eastern Washington veteran politicians should be easily re-elected.

Republican: Pam Roach, 31st district; Dale Brandland, 42nd. The 31st (south King and east Pierce counties) and the 42nd (Whatcom County) are competitive districts that lean Republican. Roach and Brandland have had tough races in the past, but in this pro-GOP atmosphere they look to be in a strong position.

Toss-ups: Those are in three Senate spots now held by Democrats: Randy Gordon in the 41st district, Steve Hobbs in the 44th; and Claudia Kauffman, 47th district. Gordon was just appointed to fill Fred Jarrett'ꀙs seat, and he has drawn the toughest possible Republican opponent in Mercer Island City Councilmember Steve Litzow. Litzow narrowly lost a race for an open House seat in 2008. The close-in eastside districts are less Republican than the outer ring of suburbs, but Litzow has experience, name ID, and the national tide on his side.

In Hobbs' 44th district, Rossi narrowly won and the district elected a Republican House member in 2008. In addition, rumors are swirling that Hobbs, facing his first re-election, may change parties and run as a Republican, or that he may face a Democratic primary challenge.

For Kauffman in the 47th, this is another district won by Rossi, and Susan Hutchison won by a wide margin here last fall. The Republican candidate will be Joe Fain, an aide to King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer. Fain is unknown to voters, but after only one election, so is Kauffman in this suburban south King County battleground.

Leaning Democratic: The races involve five Democratic incumbents Chris Marr in the 6th district; Derek Kilmer, 26th; Tracy Eide, 30th; Eric Oemig, 45th; and Rodney Tom, 48th.

The 6th (suburban Spokane) and the 26th (south Kitsap and Pierce counties) are two more districts won by Rossi and that have elected Republican House members. If these two Democrats draw serious opponents, these races move into the toss-up category.

Eide's district, centered on Federal Way, went big for Hutchison last fall and the Republicans are once again trying to recruit a serious opponent to face the veteran. In Oemig's 45th, Hutchison won here too, with 54 percent of the vote. The Redmond/Woodinville area used to be solidly Republican. f the GOP can find a candidate, this is another race that could be interesting. To face Tom in the 48th, Republicans are very excited about Gregg Bennett, a business man who has reportedly raised an impressive amount of money in a short amount of time. This Bellevue district is probably the least Republican of the former Republican eastside districts, but in this environment Bennett has a chance against former Republican Tom.

Safe Democratic: Paull Shin, 21st district; Darlene Fairley, 32nd; Karen Keiser, 33rd; Joe McDermott, 34th; Tim Sheldon, 35th; Jeanne Kohl-Welles, 36th; Adam Kline, 37th; Jean Berkey, 38th; Ed Murray, 43rd; and Ken Jacobsen, 46th. All these seats will remain in Democratic hands, but it appears Sheldon, Kline and Jacobsen will have serious primary opponents (nothing new for Tim Sheldon). And will McDermott run for the King County Council?

State House of Representatives

All 98 House seats are up. The Democrats have a 62-36 supermajority. As usual, the House Democrats have a huge money advantage. According to the latest available reports, they have roughly $500,000 in the bank, compared to roughly $160,000 for the House Republicans.

Potentially, every Democratic seat outside of Seattle, Tacoma, and downtown Spokane could be in play. Much will depend on how successful the Republicans are at recruiting quality candidates.

There are currently 12 Democrats in districts won by Dino Rossi, and zero Republicans in districts won by Chris Gregoire. Those Democratic seats are: John Driscoll, 6th district (Spokane); Deb Wallace'ꀙs open seat in the 17th (Clark County); Tim Probst, 17th; Dawn Morrell, 25th (Puyallup, Sumner); Larry Seaquist, 26th (Kitsap, Pierce counties); Chris Hurst, 31st (Bonney Lake, Enumclaw); Kathy Haigh and Fred Finn, 35th (Shelton); Kelli Linville, 42nd (Whatcom County) Hans Dunshee, 44th (South Snohomish County); Geoff Simpson and Pat Sullivan, 47th (Kent, Auburn).

It seems most likely these are the seats that will be the focus of the battle in the House, but we will know more as incumbents and candidates make their plans known later on.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Chris Vance, a former Republican party chairman, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.