In the two months since my last report much has happened. The Democratic health care plan finally passed in Washington, D.C., and the Democrat-controlled legislature adjourned after finally finding a combination of tax increases that could win majority votes in the House and Senate.
Believe it or not, I am almost rooting for some good news I can report for the Democrats just so I won't be accused of being a GOP cheerleader. There is some such news, but an honest look at the data leads to this conclusion: Six months out from Election Day, the Republican tidal wave still is building momentum.
National polling data remain largely unchanged since February, which is terrible news for the Democrats. There was no "health care bounce." Only 40 percent of Americans support the health care plan, while 52 percent are opposed. President Obama's approval rating remains at 48 percent, and Republicans have slightly increased their lead in the congressional generic ballot. The GOP now leads by 45 to 42 percent.
The generic ballot numbers are particularly significant. As Gallup pointed out in its latest survey, which found the GOP ahead 48-44 percent, Republicans rarely lead among all registered voters:
The trend based on registered voters shows how rare it is for the Republicans to lead on this "generic ballot" measure among all registered voters, as they do today. Other recent exceptions were recorded in 1994 — when Republicans wrested majority control from the Democrats for the first time in 40 years — and 2002, when the GOP achieved seat gains, a rarity for the president's party in midterm elections. In midterm years when Democrats prevailed at the polls (such as 2006, 1990, and 1986), their net support among registered voters typically extended into double digits at several points during the year — something that has yet to happen in 2010.
Here at home, according to SurveyUSA, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray's approval rating has dropped to 46 percent, with 61 percent of independents saying they disapprove of her job performance.
Adding to the Democratic woes is the recruiting success Olympia Republicans are having, especially for the state Senate. (Much less Republican progress in state House races, however.) The Senate R's have virtually run the table in terms of finding top-tier candidates for targeted races. And the GOP's marquee congressional candidates posted strong April fundraising totals.
One giant shoe is yet to drop: will Dino Rossi run for the U.S. Senate?
U.S. Senators are particularly vulnerable when their party faces a negative national tide, and Murray is no exception. Given the Democratic leanings of their Puget Sound districts, incumbent House members Adam Smith and Jay Inslee are routinely re-elected with 65 percent of the vote or more, giving them a large cushion during a bad election cycle. Sen. Murray, however, has never topped 60 percent of the vote. Her falling approval ratings, and the fact that she fails to break 50 percent against any Republican confirms her vulnerability. Real Clear Politics recently changed the status of Sen. Murray'ês re-election from "likely Democrat" to "lean Democrat."
So who will Murray's opponent be? Rep. Dave Reichert recently made it known he is not interested in a Senate race this cycle. Republican insiders believe Rossi is very close now to a go/no-go decision, perhaps in the coming weeks.
If Rossi pulls the trigger, the race is a toss-up. If he doesn't, businessman Paul Akers and state Sen. Don Benton are the two leading contenders for the Republican nomination, and this race is a likely hold for the Democrats. But if the Democrats' national slump gets even worse, Sen. Murray may find herself in trouble, even against one of the lesser-known Republicans.
U.S. House races
Here is a look across the state:
Safe Republican: Doc Hastings, 4th Congressional District, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, 5th CD.
Likely Republican: 8th CD Dave Reichert v. Suzan DelBene. DelBene continues to raise a lot of money. In a different kind of year, this race would be a toss-up.
Lean Republican: The 3rd Congressional District is an open seat, with Democratic Rep. Brian Baird retiring from office. Spirited primary battles are shaping up on both sides. On the GOP side, former Bush administration official David Castillo isn't going away, and has roughly $50,000 in the bank. The favorite, however, remains state Rep. Jaimie Herrera, who has banked an impressive $140,000. Castillo is running a serious race, but Herrera has more name identification, the credibility of being an elected official, and almost three times as much money in the bank. It'ês hard to see how she loses the primary to Castillo.
On the Democratic side, former state House majority leader Denny Heck is turning out to be a fundraising machine. He has $532,000 in the bank, $250,000 of which is his own money. State Rep. Deb Wallace dropped out a few weeks ago, leaving state Sen. Craig Pridemore as Heck's Democratic opponent. Pridemore has $51,000 in the bank, and was just endorsed by the Sierra Club. This is shaping up as a classic confrontation between the "establishment moderate'ê (Heck) and the 'êtrue liberal'ê (Pridemore).
In the end it probably won't matter which Democrat prevails. The 3rd is a Republican-leaning district and this looks like a Republican year. Herrera is most likely going to Congress.
Lean Democratic: 2nd district Rep. Rick Larsen v. John Koster. Snohomish County Councilmember John Koster achieved a significant milestone by banking roughly $100,000 in the first quarter of 2010. In a normal year, Larsen would be cruising to re-election, but this isn't a normal year, and Koster's solid fundraising performance, combined with the competitive party balance in the 2nd district, makes this a race to watch.
Likely Democratic: There are two of these races, one involving Rep. Jay Inslee in the 1st district. Two Republicans have lined up to run against Inslee, Matthew Burke and James Watkins. Neither has raised much money, but Watkins has loaned his own campaign $100,000. Inslee is probably safe, unless the Republican wave reaches tsunami proportions.
Also in the same category is 9th district Democratic incumbent Adam Smith. A lot of Republicans are excited about Pierce County Councilmember Dick Muri's candidacy, but his April fundraising total is likely to dampen some of that enthusiasm. Despite Smith's being the local focus of the health care debate, Muri raised only $26,000 during the first quarter of 2010, and has only $42,000 in the bank after being in the race for a year. In the meantime, James Postma, Smith's GOP opponent in 2008, is running again, has loaned his campaign $150,000, and is already running cable TV ads. At this point it seems more likely that Muri will lose the primary than it does that he will beat Smith in the general.
Safe Democratic: Norm Dicks, 6th district, and Jim McDermott, 7th district.
State legislative races
For months, Democrats in Olympia fretted over how to balance the budget while doing themselves the least possible political damage. In the end, they cut spending roughly $700 million and raised a combination of taxes on such things as beer, soda, bottled water, and candy.
Going into special session in order to raise taxes and cut spending is certainly not good politics, and won't be popular on the campaign trail. But in the end, it really doesn't matter what the Olympia D's did this year. This is going to be a nationalized election, and Democrats are in trouble because of health care and the economy, not what they did or didn't do in Olympia. Many Democrats in swing districts voted against the budget and the tax increase package. This fall they are likely to learn the same lesson their predecessors in both parties have learned in past elections: When the national tide is running against your party, there's not much you can do to save yourself.
Since February, the Senate Republicans have landed several additional prized recruits, Dave Schmidt in the 44th legislative district, Tony Moore in the 30th, and Andy Hill in the 45th. They now have good challengers in all of their eight targeted races; and, unlike their House counterparts, they are matching the D's in terms of fundraising. The Senate Democrats have roughly $161,000 in their two caucus political committees, while the Senate R's have roughly $183,000 in the bank. Republicans have an outside chance of taking the majority in the Senate.
Safe Republican: Bob Morton, 7th legislative district; Jerome Delvin, 8th LD: Janea Holmquist, 13th LD; and Jim Honeyford, 15th LD.
Likely Republican: The 42nd district seat is open. Popular incumbent Dale Brandland retired, but Republican House member Doug Ericksen should be able to easily hold onto this seat for his party.
Lean Republican: Pam Roach, 31st district (Bonney Lake/Sumner). The 31st is a Republican-leaning district, but how much bad press can Pam Roach survive? Two Democrats, are running: former Buckley city councilman Ron Weigelt and Raymond Bunk.
Toss-up: Steve Hobbs (D) vs. Dave Schmidt (R) in the 44th district (Bothell). The 44th leans Republican, and former Sen. Schmidt is back for a re-match after losing to Hobbs four years ago in a good Democratic year. Things may be very different this time. Rep. Hans Dunshee has apparently decided against a Democratic primary challenge to Hobbs.
Other toss-up races, all currently held by Democrats, include Randy Gordon (D) vs. Steve Litzow (R) in the 41st (Bellevue, Mercer Island); Claudia Kauffman (D) vs. Joe Fain (R) in the 47th (Kent/Auburn); and Chris Marr (D) vs. Michael Baumgartner (R) 6th LD (Spokane).
Lean Democratic: Incumbent Tracy Eide (D) faces Tony Moore (R) in the 30th district (Federal Way). Moore is the president of the Federal Way School Board and a former candidate for the legislature. In the 45th district (Redmond/Woodinville), Eric Oemig (D) will be challenged by Andy Hill (R). Hill is a former Microsoftie, PTA president, and youth soccer activist — the perfect resume for the affluent Eastside. Moore and Hill are strong candidates, but the 30th and 45th lean slightly Democratic, so you have to give the D incumbents a slight advantage at this point.
The contest between Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom and Gregg Bennett (R) in the 48th district (Bellevue) remains in the lean D category, while Derek Kilmer in the 26th district has drawn a political newcomer as his Republican opponent, real-estate broker Marty McClendon. What makes this race interesting is that the 26th leans Republican.
Safe Democratic: Paul Shinn, 21st; Darlene Fairley, 32nd; Karen Keiser, 33rd; the 34th district seat being vacated by Joe McDermott for a King County Council run; Tim Sheldon, 35th; Jeanne Kohl-Welles, 36th; Adam Kline, 37th (where primary challenger Eric Liu has dropped out); Jean Berkey, 38th; Ed Murray, 43rd; and Ken Jacobsen, 46th.
State House of Representatives
In the House the Democrats' dramatic money advantage persists. According to the latest available reports, they have roughly $394,000 in the bank, compared to just $74,000 for the House Republicans. This fundraising gap will greatly hinder the GOP's ability to gain back a large number of seats.
With all 98 seats on the ballot, it is tough to handicap the House at this point. Potentially, every Democratic seat outside of Seattle, Tacoma, and downtown Spokane could be in play.
Republicans have to defend open seats in the 42nd (Whatcom), the 18th (Clark), and the 31st (Bonney Lake), while the Democrats have to hold on to open seats in the 1st (Shoreline), the 40th (Bellingham), and the 24th (Port Angeles) All these districts, however, lean heavily towards the party that currently holds them.
The most competitive races are likely to be for the 12 seats held by Democrats in districts won by Dino Rossi in 2008. Those Democratic seats are: John Driscoll, 6th district (Spokane); Deb Wallace's 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). Significantly, Republicans now have candidates up and running in each of these districts.