The Vance Report: Handicapping 2010 races, as the GOP tide swells

Two recent polls, putting even the formidable Sen. Patty Murray on notice, are emboldening Republican challengers up and down the ballot.
Crosscut archive image.

Sen. Patty Murray

Two recent polls, putting even the formidable Sen. Patty Murray on notice, are emboldening Republican challengers up and down the ballot.

Another month has passed, and talk of the 2010 elections becoming a Republican landslide on the scale of 1994 grows more credible every day. Now the big missing piece for the Republicans, a top-tier challenger to Sen. Patty Murray, could be on the horizon. Will one of the big names such as Dave Reichert, Dino Rossi, or Susan Hutchson jump in?

National polling data continues to look bad for the Ds. President Obama'ꀙs approval rating is down two points from last month, and now stands at 47 percent — and this is after the state of the union speech, which usually give the President a bump up in the polls. Republicans continue to lead the Congressional generic ballot by 2 percent, 45-43.

In addition, there is the just-out Washington state Rasmussen poll, which found Sen. Patty Murray polling less than 50 percent of the vote against two completely unknown Republican challengers, and trailing Dino Rossi 46-48. This comes on the heels of Moore Information'ꀙs recent Washington state poll. Pollster Bob Moore found the generic ballot tied at 35-35, the best numbers he has seen since 1994 for Republicans. And he found that in a hypothetical Senate race, Dino Rossi leads Patty Murray, 45-43. If Sen. Murray is under 50 percent against challengers with zero name familiarity, then virtually every Democrat is vulnerable this year.

The wave appears to be building, but Republicans still need candidates who are capable of riding it to victory. Massachusetts' new Sen. Scott Brown wasn'ꀙt just a guy with several thousand Facebook friends; he was a state senator with a resume and enough money to run a real campaign. In 1994, Republicans gained six U.S. House seats in Washington state, and they did it by fielding an all-star team of legislators, former legislators, and community leaders, all of whom ran serious, well financed campaigns.

In a normal year, Democratic incumbents like Sen. Murray, Rep. Rick Larsen, Rep. Jay Inslee, and Rep. Adam Smith would be routinely re-elected, but this doesn'ꀙt look like a normal year. Republicans can'ꀙt and won'ꀙt out-raise their Democratic opponents, but they do need to raise enough money to get their message out. Even with the political wind at your back, candidates and fundraising matter.

Federal Races

Federal candidates had to file reports with the FEC if they had raised over $5,000 by December 31. The next filing period is in mid-April. In the Senate races, Sen. Murray reports just over $5 million in the bank, according to the Federal Election Commission. Throughout 2009, a crowd of Republican activists, unknown to voters and unable, so far, to raise money, stepped up to oppose Murray.

In February of this year, state Sen. Don Benton (Vancouver) jumped in the race. Benton has won and lost a number of races in southwest Washington, and served briefly as the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. A few days later, Bellingham businessman Paul Akers announced he was running. If no one else gets in, Benton and Akers are likely to battle it out for the nomination. Benton will be able to raise some money, and it is assumed Akers will put in some of his own money.

The big question, now that the Republican tide is running so strongly,, is who else might jump in. Rep. Dave Reichert'ꀙs name continues to come up, and he hasn'ꀙt absolutely closed the door to a Senate race. Former TV anchor and King County Executive candidate Susan Hutchison likewise continues to be the subject of discussion, and insiders report she hasn'ꀙt ruled out a challenge to Murray. And then there is Dino Rossi, who has twice run against Gov. Chris Gregoire. The Rasmussen and Moore polls confirm that Rossi would be dead even with Murray the moment he announces, but is he interested in another bruising statewide throw-down?

The reports from Republican insiders suggest that Reichert, Hutchison, and Rossi may be biding their time, waiting to see if the current Republican trend continues. Rossi, especially, can wait, given his name familiarity and huge pool of past donors. Candidates don'ꀙt have to officially file for office until the second week in June, so filing week might be very, very interesting this year.

House Races

Safe Republican: Doc Hastings, 4th CD, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, 5th CD.

Republican: 8th CD Dave Reichert is being challenged by Suzan DelBene, who is raising a lot of money, but this doesn'ꀙt seem to be the year to be challenging a popular Republican incumbent. If Reichert goes for the Senate, the race shifts to lean-Republican and wild primary races ensue on both sides.

Lean Republican: 3rd CD (open seat). State Rep. Jaime Herrera got off to a good start, banking $56,000 by year'ꀙs end. Former Bush administration official David Castillo is also running a serious race, and he got in the race before Rep. Brian Baird announced his retirement; he has raised just over $100,000 and hired some serious political talent to run his campaign. Herrera is still the favorite, but Castillo can'ꀙt be ignored. On the Democratic side, former House majority leader Denny Heck quickly raised $115,000 and loaned his campaign $100,000, giving him a big head start over state Sen. Craig Pridemore, and state Rep. Deb Wallace. In this atmosphere the 3rd is likely to go Republican in November.

Lean Democratic: 2nd CD. Incumbent Rick Larsen is likely to face John Koster, a former legislator and current Snohomish County councilmember, a serious, experienced politician in a competitive district. Koster did not file a year-end fundraising report, so our first glance at his fundraising will come in April.

Democratic: Jay Inslee, 1st CD. Two Republicans have lined up to run against Inslee: Matthew Burke and James Watkins, who are both first-time candidates with business backgrounds. Can either of them raise money? Watkins posted $60,000 raised by year'ꀙs end. Adam Smith, 9th CD, may face retired engineer James Postma, Smith'ꀙs opponent in 2008 and who has loaned his campaign $100,000, but the presumed GOP nominee is Pierce County councilman Dick Muri. Despite being in the race for months, Muri is not listed on the FEC web page, and his campaign has not been aggressively raising money. To make this race competitive, Muri needs to post an impressive fundraising number in April.

Safe Democratic: Norm Dicks, 6th CD; Jim McDermott, 7th CD.

State Senate Races

The Senate Democrats have roughly $223,000 in their two caucus political committees, while the Senate Republicans have roughly $164,000 in the bank.

Safe Republican: Bob Morton, 7th LD, Jerome Delvin, 8th LD, Janea Holmquist, 13th LD, Jim Honeyford, 15th LD.

Republican: Dale Brandland (R) , 42nd.

Lean Republican: Pam Roach, 31st LD (Bonney Lake/Sumner). This race moves to the 'ꀜlean'ꀝ category this month due to the incredible public battle between Sen. Roach and her caucus'ꀙs leadership. Being banned from meetings and urged to seek counseling by your own party is bad. Having the whole thing play out in the Seattle media is unbelievable. The 31st is a Republican-leaning district, but the Democrats have a credible opponent for Roach in former Buckley city councilman Ron Weigelt. Now the question is, will Roach draw a Republican opponent?

Toss Up: Randy Gordon (D) v Steve Litzow (R) , 41st (Bellevue, Mercer Island). Gordon was just appointed to fill Fred Jarrett'ꀙs seat, and he has drawn the toughest possible Republican opponent in Mercer Island City Councilman Steve Litzow.

Also a toss-up: Steve Hobbs (D), 44th (Bothell) The 44th leans Republican, but Hobbs hasn'ꀙt drawn an opponent yet. The district remains volatile due to rumors of party switching and primary challenges to Hobbs, who has angered some unions.

Other toss-ups: Claudia Kauffman (D) vs. Joe Fain (R) in the 47th (Kent/Auburn). Fain is off to a great start, having quickly raised $20,000. He is a young political staff person with a lot of connections and a lot of energy, and the 47th leans Republican. Chris Marr (D) vs. Michael Baumgartner (R) 6th LD (Spokane). The GOP seems to have found a strong candidate in Baumgartner, a former State Department official who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, so this race moves into the toss-up category. This suburban Spokane district is less Republican than most of the rest of eastern Washington, but Dino Rossi won it in 2008.

Lean Democratic. Derek Kilmer, 26th, Tracy Eide, 30th, and Eric Oemig, 45th, are all in competitive districts, particularly Kilmer's, but without GOP opponents as of yet. Rodney Tom (D) vs. Gregg Bennett (R), 48th (Bellevue): Republicans are very excited about businessman Gregg Bennett, with good reason, and he has already raised $104,000.

Safe Democratic: Paul Shinn, 21st. 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. Ken Jacobsen, 46th. All these seats will remain in Democratic hands, but Kline and Jacobsen will have serious primary opponents in former Clinton speech writer and motivational lecturer Eric Liu, and trial lawyer David Frockt. Liu has raised $37,000, while Frockt has raised $34,000.

State House of Representatives Races

The House Democrats'ꀙ money advantage continues to grow. According to the latest available reports they have roughly $474,000 in the bank, compared to just $65,000 for the House Republicans — a big problem for the GOP. Potentially, every Democratic seat outside of Seattle, Tacoma, and downtown Spokane could be in play, but for now let's focus on the 12 Democrats in districts won by Dino Rossi in 2008 as those are the most likely and obvious battlegrounds.

Rep. Larry Seaquist in 26th, and Rep. Pat Sullivan in the 47th don'ꀙt have opponents yet. John Driscoll, 6th (Spokane), may face former Rep. John Ahern, who is seeking a rematch with Driscoll, but first Ahern has to get past fellow Republican, Shelly O'ꀙ Quinn, the executive director of the Nethercutt Foundation. Tim Probst, 17th (Clark) will likely face small businessman Brian Peck, who has banked $18,000, for the open seat; surprisingly, no Republican has stepped forward to run yet.

Dawn Morrell, 25th (Puyallup, Sumner), has drawn two interesting Republican opponents. Steve Vermillion is a pilot, author, and businessman; Hans Zeiger is a very young, very aggressive conservative author and columnist who has already raised $20,000. The 25th is a Republican-leaning district, so Morrell is in for a fight.

Chris Hurst, 31st (Bonney Lake, Enumclaw), faces Patrick Reed, a manager in the Secretary of State'ꀙs office who is off and running against Hurst. In the other seat, Rep. Dan Roach is running for the Pierce County Council and a very good Republican candidate, Enumclaw School Board member Cathy Dahlquist, has stepped up to run for the open seat. Recently Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney has filed for the race too.

Kathy Haigh and Fred Finn, 35th (Shelton): Firefighter Daniel Griffey is running for the House, but he hasn'ꀙt specified whether he is running against Haigh or Finn. Kelly Linville, 42nd (Whatcom): Vincent Buys, a young business owner, is in the race for the GOP against one of the most powerful members of the House. Hans Dunshee, 44th (South Snohomish) has drawn Sharam Hadian, a pastor who has drawn attention for criticizing 'ꀜbikini baristas'ꀝ and is running against one of the legislature'ꀙs most passionate and eloquent liberals. This ought to be interesting.

Geoff Simpson, 47th (Kent, Auburn): Republicans are always optimistic this time of year about beating Simpson in this GOP-leaning district. Now they are very excited about Nancy Wyatt, the president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, but Mark Hargrove, Simpson'ꀙs opponent from 2008, is also in the race. This will likely be a spirited primary.

Finally, you have the battle in the 2nd LD (Eatonville). Party-switching maverick Rep. Tom Campbell faces two serious Republican primary opponents, Matt Hamilton and J.T. Wilcox, of Wilcox farms. Both are raising money. Hamilton has banked $16,000, while Wilcox has raised $34,000. So will Campbell run as an R, a D, or an independent?

We live in interesting times!


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

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