State election results show Republican tide

The Vance Report: The state's voting lines up closely with national polling that shows large support for Republican candidates.
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U.S. Capitol Building

The Vance Report: The state's voting lines up closely with national polling that shows large support for Republican candidates.

If there is a surprise coming out of the primary election it is the lack of any surprises. There are still well over 200,000 votes left to count, but so far the top two primary has gone as expected:

  • Dino Rossi defeated his Tea Party antagonists handily.
  • Republican vote totals validated the generic ballot polling we have seen all year, and the GOP is now poised to win back at least some of the congressional and legislative seats they have lost since 1994.
  • And the Secretary of State's website crashed early on election night, infuriating the media and political junkies (like me).

Make no mistake, the primary results do function as a rough poll.  Past elections have demonstrated that the results in November rarely deviate more than a few percentage points from the blanket or top two primary results. We now know with a high degree of certainty which races will be close, and which races are already over.

What matters in my opinion are the partisan totals in voting for a particular position, not what any individual candidate receives. With multiple candidates on the ballot, you often need to add up the partisan totals in order to get a sense of where a race really stands.

As expected, Republicans did very well, especially in the suburban districts they have lost in recent years. Democrats who routinely cruised to re-election in recent years now find themselves receiving less than 50 percent of the vote.

To anyone following polling trends, this shouldn't be a surprise. Republicans now lead the national generic ballot poll by 6 percent — the largest lead they have ever enjoyed — and President Obama's approval rating has fallen to 45 percent.

Much can change as we continue to count ballots over the next ten days.  What follows is a brief snap shot of where we stand now.

U.S. Senate

As of Wednesday afternoon, the combined Republican vote outnumbers the combined Democratic vote, 50 percent to 48 percent.  To put this in perspective, in 2000, the combined R vote in the primary was 46.7 percent and Slade Gorton, the Republican incumbent, lost in November.

For months, many political observers have scoffed at the idea that Patty Murray was in danger of losing. Now all doubt should be gone. Sen. Murray is a formidable politician, but she has had the good fortune to be on the ballot in years when the tide was running against Republicans in Washington state. Now the opposite is true. This race is a toss-up, with the slightest of advantages going to Dino Rossi.

U.S. House

In southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District, as expected, state Rep. Jaime Herrera (R) and former state Rep. Denny Heck (D), moved on to November. With several candidates on the primary ballot, Republicans lead Democrats 53 percent to 43 percent in this race for Democratic Rep. Brian Baird's open seat.  All year I have said the 3rd is a Republican-leaning district that would send a Republican to Congress. The primary results bear that out. This race moves from "lean Republican" to "likely Republican."

At the other end of I-5, in the 2nd District, Snohomish County Councilman John Koster (R) has succeeded in making his race against Rep. Rick Larsen (D) competitive. Democrats currently lead Republicans 53 percent to 47 percent in the 2nd.  Call this one "lean Democrat," but Larsen has a tough race on his hands.

In the 9th District, Democrats lead Republicans 52 percent to 44 percent, with 3 percent going to a Green Party candidate.  Rep. Adam Smith is a likely winner in his race against Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri (R), but it's too soon to call this race over.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R), on the other hand, appears safe now, as Republicans lead Democrats 58 percent to 37 percent in the 8th CD.  In 2006 and 2008, Republican Reichert was considered endangered. Now it is Democrats Larsen and Smith who face serious challenges — ore evidence that this election is being shaped by national trends, not local candidates or circumstances.

Jay Inslee and all other Washington state congressional incumbents are safe.

State Senate

Republicans need a net gain of seven seats to take a 25-24 majority in the upper house of the legislature. Primary results confirm none of their current seats are in any jeopardy.

The GOP targeted eight Democratic seats in the Puget Sound and Spokane suburbs and recruited impressive candidates in all of them. Two of those eight races appear settled.

In south King County'ꀙs 47th district, Republican Joe Fain leads freshman Democratic Sen. Claudia Kaufman by roughly 10 percent.  The 47th will likely be a Republican gain. On the Kitsap Peninsula, in the 26th district, the Republican challenge to Sen. Derek Kilmer never seemed to get off the ground, as Kilmer has racked up 57 percent of the vote so far. He appears safe.

Six other Democratic seats, however, are in the lean or toss up-category.  The races involving Democratic Sens. Chris Marr (Spokane), Tracy Eide (Federal Way), Randy Gordon (Mercer Island), Rodney Tom (Bellevue), Eric Oemig (Redmond), and Steve Hobbs (Bothell), are all too close to call.

Republicans will gain seats in the Senate, but they would have to run the table in order to take the majority. Still, these results clearly demonstrate that with the right candidates and a more favorable national atmosphere, Republicans can win back the secular suburban moderates who hold the key to victory on the West Coast.

State House

House Republicans have raised less money than their Senate counterparts, and have failed to recruit candidates into some obviously winnable races. Yet due to the fact that all 98 House seats are on the ballot, Republicans actually have a better chance of catching the big national wave and riding it to a majority in the House than they do in the Senate.

As in the Senate, suburban seats are, by and large, the battleground, and a number of incumbent Democrats find themselves and their party under 50 percent of the vote.

Looking at the primary results, Republicans currently have 40 seats in the "safe" or "likely" category.  Democrats can count 44 seats safe or likely.

This leaves 14 seats that will likely decide the majority, with Republicans needing to win 10 of 14 to secure a 50-48 majority.  The battle for the House could become very close.


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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.