The Vance Report: Look out, Democrats. National politics will drive state's election

A Republican wave is building nationally. Will the wave be a tsunami strong enough to wipe away Democratic control in Olympia and give Republicans a U.S. Senate seat here?
Crosscut archive image.

President Obama delivering the State of the Union address. He and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have become political targets for Republicans.

A Republican wave is building nationally. Will the wave be a tsunami strong enough to wipe away Democratic control in Olympia and give Republicans a U.S. Senate seat here?

Since the 1994 Republican tidal wave, Democrats have dominated Washington state politics, particularly during the five elections when George W. Bush defined the Republican Party. Democrats elected and re-elected governors, senators, and members of Congress. In Olympia, they built up huge majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Now, four months out from Election Day 2010, Republicans are in position to take back much of what has been lost the past ten years — if the GOP's national wave is big enough.

The filing period is over and the Republicans have put an impressive team on the field. In Dino Rossi they have their strongest possible candidate at the top of the statewide ticket. They are favored to pick up one Democratic congressional seat, and have a realistic shot at at least one more. They have recruited strong candidates for virtually every competitive seat in the state House and Senate.

The president's party almost always loses ground in off-year elections. The question is, will Republicans make modest gains, or will there be a landslide that actually results in the GOP taking majorities in Olympia and Washington, D.C.? And will the wave actually be big enough to oust Democrats like U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen?

William Galston, writing for The New Republic, does a good job looking at the recent evidence and warns the Democrats to prepare for losing the U.S House. Still, the polling data at this point is inconsistent. President Obama's approval rating remains at 48 percent, pretty much where it has been all year.

More significant is the generic has consistently shown the Republicans with a lead of between 5 and 10 points.

Gallup's poll of registered voters, however, has been consistently inconsistent. A month ago the two parties were tied. The next week Republicans had a 6-point lead, the largest lead the GOP had ever enjoyed in the Gallup poll. The next week the parties were tied again. The next week the GOP was up by 5 points, then there was another tie. Last week, Republicans were ahead by 5 percent, and now this week there is another tie. So what is really going on?

This disparity is extremely significant. If the generic ballot polling is dead even on Election Day, Republicans will make only modest gains. But if the GOP heads into the election ahead by 5 to 10 points, Patty Murray and every suburban Democrat will likely be swept away. Watching the generic ballot numbers will be fascinating the rest of this year.

Federal races

There were no surprises in filings for federal office. The next big benchmark for those seeking to go to Washington, D.C. will come in mid-July when we get new fund-raising totals.

U.S. Senate

Fifteen people have filed for the U.S. Senate, but only two names matter: Dino Rossi and Patty Murray. Sarah Palin's endorsement of Clint Didier has made him the champion of conservatives (and liberals) who want to derail Rossi; and in a closed party convention or primary system Didier might give Rossi heartburn. But the recent Elway poll showing the unknown Didier with only 5 percent of the vote confirms that in our wide open top-two system, Rossi and Murray are shoe-ins in the August primary.

As for November, national analysts list the race as a toss-up, and all the polls confirm that. Unless Rossi or Murray makes a major mistake, this race is going to be determined by national events and trends.

U.S. House

The House races break down this way.

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

Likely Republican: Dave Reichert v. Suzan DelBene in the 8th District: Timing is everything, and this is the wrong year to challenge a Republican incumbent who survived 2006 and 2008.

Lean Republican: That's the 3rd Congressional District, where Democrat Denny Heck has done an impressive job racking up money and endorsements and driving his two serious Democratic opponents out of the race. David Castillo is still running hard on the Republican side. But recent polling by Moore Information shows that Republican Jaime Herrera is the favorite to go to Congress.

The Third District was won by George W. Bush in 2000 and '04 and Dino Rossi in '04 and '08, and today the district shows a seven-point GOP lead on the generic ballot:
If the election for U.S. Congress were held today, would you be voting for the Republican candidate or Democratic candidate?
Republican: 42 percent
Democratic: 35 percent
Neither: 3 percent
Depends/don'ꀙt know: 20 percent

Importantly, independent voters also favor a Republican, by a 3-to-1 margin.

Among voters who prefer a Republican for Congress, Jaime Herrera has a wide lead over David Hedrick and David Castillo: Herrera is favored by 27 percent, Hedrick by 8 percent, and Castillo by 8 percent. Forty-nine percent are undecided.

Further, a Republican candidate who will act as a check and balance in Congress against Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi is favored on this question:
Who would you prefer to represent you in Congress? A Republican member of Congress who will be a check and balance to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, or a Democrat member of Congress who will help Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats pass their agenda?

Those favoring a Republican as a check and balance to Obama were 49 percent, as opposed to 41 percent wanting a Democrat to help him. Another 10 percent were undecided.

Lean Democratic: That's the 2nd Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Rick Larsen faces John Koster. The 2nd is a competitive district and Koster is a strong, credible candidate. It will be interesting to see if he maintained his fundraising momentum during the second quarter of 2010.

Likely Democratic: Jay Inslee, 1st District, and Adam Smith, in the 9th. We will find out in July if any of the Republicans running against these two suburban Democrats are on a fundraising pace to make these races truly competitive.

Safe Democratic: Norm Dicks, in the 6th District, and Jim McDermott, 7th District.

State legislative races

Filing is over and now the battles for majorities are coming into focus. Republicans have filed strong candidates all over the state, giving them a chance to ride a national wave into power, or at least relevance, in one or both houses of the legislature.

The battle will largely be fought in the suburbs of Puget Sound, Portland, and Spokane. And once again, hundreds of thousands of voters in Seattle and eastern Washington will have only one party to vote for, as virtually no Republicans filed for office in Seattle, with the reverse being true across much of eastern Washington. There will be single-party elections in 34 of 98 House seats, and in eight of the 24 Senate seats up this year.

State Senate

Republicans need a net gain of seven seats to take a 25-24 majority. A gain of six would give them a working majority, given the leanings of conservative Democrat Tim Sheldon. The GOP has top-tier challengers in eight races, and only two seats of their own are even marginally threatened. And, unlike their House counterparts, they are more than matching the Democrats in terms of fundraising. The Senate Democrats have roughly $136,000 in their two caucus political committees, while the Senate Republicans have roughly $181,000 in the bank.

Safe Republican: Bob Morton 7th Legislative District (Colville, Kettle Falls); Jerome Delvin, 8th LD (Richland); Janea Holmquist, 13th LD (Moses Lake); and Jim Honeyford, 15th LD (Sunnyside, Wapato).

Likely Republican: The 42nd district in Whatcom County has an open seat. Republican House member Doug Ericksen should be able to easily take this seat. Pam Roach, 31st LD (Bonney Lake, Sumner). Of course Roach is controversial, but the 31st is a Republican-leaning district, and this just doesn'ꀙt seem like a year when a Republican incumbent can lose in such a district.

Toss-up: Given the national trends, five currently Democratic seats appear dead even at this point: Steve Hobbs (D) v Dave Schmidt (R) in the 44th (Bothell); Randy Gordon (D) v Steve Litzow (R), 41st (Bellevue, Mercer Island); Claudia Kauffman (D) v Joe Fain (R), 47th (Kent, Auburn); Derek Kilmer (D) v Marty McClendon (R), 26th (Kitsap); and Chris Marr (D) v Michael Baumgartner (R), 6th (Spokane).

Lean Democratic: Three other Democrats are defending seats in districts that slightly lean Democratic. Those races are Tracy Eide (D) v Tony Moore (R), 30th District (Federal Way); Eric Oemig (D) v Andy Hill (R) 45th (Redmond/Woodinville); and Rodney Tom (D) v Gregg Bennett (R), 48th (Bellevue).

Safe Democratic: Paul Shinn, 21st (Lynnwood, Mukilteo); Darlene Fairley, 32nd (Shoreline, Kenmore); Karen Keiser, 33rd (Kent, Des Moines); open seat in the 34th (West Seattle, Vashon); Tim Sheldon, 35th (Shelton); Jeanne Kohl-Welles, 36th (Ballard, Queen Anne, Magnolia); Adam Kline, 37th (southeast Seattle); Jean Berkey, 38th (Everett); Ed Murray, 43rd (University District, Eastlake); and an open seat in northeast Seattle's 46th District.

State House of Representatives

Democrats have a huge 62-36 majority in the lower chamber, but with filing complete, the battle for the House is remarkably competitive. The Republicans can count 33 seats unopposed or safe, and so can the Democrats. Of the remaining 32 seats facing competitive elections, only three are currently held by Republicans. The Democrats have a remarkable number of seats to defend.

Fortunately for the Democrats, they have the money to do it. According to the latest available reports, they have roughly $323,000 in the bank, compared to just $74,000 for the House Republicans. This fundraising gap is what may save the Democrats in many races.

I will re-evaluate these House races after the August primary, but for now this is how the competitive races look.

Toss-up: 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). One Republican seat makes this list: the open seat formerly held by Skip Priest in the Democratic-leaning 30th district (Federal Way).

Lean Republican: Open Republican seats in the 42nd (Whatcom) and the 18th (Clark).

Lean Democratic: Open Democratic seats in the 1st (Shoreline), the 40th (Bellingham), and the 24th (Port Angeles). In addition, these normally safe Democratic incumbents all face challengers in districts that could be competitive this year: Sherry Appleton and Christine Rolfes in the 23rd (Kitsap), Kevin Van De Wege in the 24th (Port Angeles), Troy Kelley and Tami Green in the 28th (Lakewood); Mark Miloscia in the 30th (Federal Way); Marcie Maxwell and Judy Clibborn in the 41st (Mercer Island/Bellevue); Kelli Linville in the 42nd (Whatcom); Roger Goodman and Larry Springer in the 45th (Redmond); and Ross Hunter and Deb Eddy in the 48th (Bellevue).


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.