Vance report: GOP tide could swamp the state's D.C. races, and Olympia too

Polling since last month's primary shows the Republican wave is growing. Most surprising: Democrat Rick Larsen appears to be trailing challenger John Koster.
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Polls show Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen now leading Republican challenger John Koster

Polling since last month's primary shows the Republican wave is growing. Most surprising: Democrat Rick Larsen appears to be trailing challenger John Koster.

As we come out of the Labor Day weekend and begin the homestretch of the 2010 midterm election campaign, the question still remains: Is this 1994 all over again?

In 1994, Republicans not only won, they won in a landslide. In 1994, Republicans not only took the majority in the state House, they won a huge 26-seat majority. Virtually every Democrat outside downtown Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane lost the election.

After looking at the Aug. 17 primary results I was ready to conclude that this was going to be a good year for the GOP, but not a 1994-type blowout. History shows the primary results in a blanket or top-two primary do serve as a rough poll, telling us which races are competitive and which aren'ꀙt. In the 1994 blanket primary, Republicans led — there were more combined R votes than D votes — in 62 House races. This year Republicans led in the primary in 46 of 98 House seats. So 2010 was looking like a very good year for the Rs, but not a rout.

Since the primary, however, polling data has indicated that the GOP wave has gotten even bigger. First, there are the national generic ballot numbers. Every poll now shows Republicans with a substantial lead. In polls released on Labor Day, CNN showed a 7 percent R advantage among registered voters, while Rasmussen had the GOP up by 12 percent among likely voters, the largest GOP lead Rasmussen has ever found. In the history of the Gallup poll Republicans have rarely led in the national generic ballot, and their largest lead ever was 5 percent in 1994. The week before Labor Day, Gallup showed the GOP up by 10 percent. These generic ballot numbers are literally unheard of.

Then there are the horse-race polls in Washington state. SurveyUSA and Rasmussen both show Dino Rossi with a clear lead over Patty Murray. SurveyUSA also shows Republican Jaime Herrera ahead of Democrat Denny Heck, 54 percent to 41 percent, in the race for the open seat in the 3rd Congressional District. Finally, and most surprising, SurveyUSA shows Republican John Koster leading Democrat Rick Larsen 50 percent to 46 percent in the 2nd CD.

It'ꀙs a small sample size, but polls in these three races show Republicans increasing their percentages by one to two percentage points over what they received in the primary. If that were to occur across the board — a big if — Republicans would win a U.S. Senate seat, take two more U.S. House seats, win a clear majority in the State House, and gain a 25-24 majority in the State Senate.

Will it happen? Charlie Cook, probably the most respected non-partisan political analyst in the country, believes we are headed to a 1994 redux:

Simply put, Democrats find themselves heading into a midterm election that looks as grisly as any the party has faced in decades. It isn't hard to find Democratic pollsters who privately concede that the numbers they are looking at now are worse than what they saw in 1994.

One thing is clear: The Democratic spin about this being an anti-incumbent election, not an anti-Democrat election, was never true. Not a single Republican-held seat in the legislature or in our congressional delegation is even remotely in jeopardy. Republican incumbents, such as Congressman Dave Reichert, are cruising to reelection. What a difference two years can make.

Unless something dramatic happens, the GOP wave will be big. Right now the only question is, how big?

Federal Races

U.S. Senate: Leaning Republican

I know some people will never accept it, but at this point the data shows Dino Rossi with a slight but clear advantage over Patty Murray. In the primary, the combined R vote led the combined D vote by 1.4 percentage points — 49.9 percent to 48.5 percent. The last two polls not only show Murray well below 50 percent, they show her trailing Rossi. Murray'ꀙs financial advantage lessens every day as the Rossi campaign fills up its coffers after a late start.

As of today it appears there are only two ways Patty Murray survives. One is dependent on the national trend improving for Democrats. The second is if the Rossi campaign allows itself to become a punching bag, failing to respond to the avalanche of negative advertising Murray and the Democrats will unleash.

If the current national mood persists, this is Dino Rossi'ꀙs race to lose.

U.S. House

Safe Republican: Doc Hastings, 4th CD; Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, 5th CD; and Dave Reichert, 8th CD. Yes, add Reichert to the safe column. Republicans led Democrats 58 percent to 39.5 percent in the primary in the 8th CD. Unless something big changes, Reichert has won another term in the House.

Likely Republican: 3rd Congressional District, Jamie Herrera (R) v. Denny Heck (D). It was assumed this open-seat race in Southwest Washington would go right down to the wire. Doesn'ꀙt look like it now. Rs had a huge advantage in the primary vote, and the first poll shows Herrera with a double-digit lead. Denny Heck is a great candidate, but timing is everything in politics.

Toss Up: 2nd District, Rick Larsen (D) v. John Koster (R). The R/D split in the primary was 48 percent to 52 percent. Now the first poll shows Koster ahead. Clearly, this race, and not the Herrera'ꀓHeck contest, is the hot House race in Washington State. Watch the national money on both sides poor into Northwest Washington.

Leaning Democratic: 9th District, Adam Smith (D) v. Dick Muri (R). Smith received only 51 percent of the primary vote, but a Green Party candidate picked up another 3 percent. Muri, a Pierce County Councilman, is within striking distance of riding the national wave, but he needs to dramatically step up his fundraising.

State Legislative Races

As usual, most of the attention all year has been on the Senate, but Republicans emerge from the primary with a better chance of taking over the House than they do the upper chamber of the legislature. Can the Democrats' huge money advantage save them?

State Senate

Republicans need a net gain of seven seats to take a 25-24 majority. The GOP targeted eight Democratic seats to start the year. None of their seats are in jeopardy. One of their targets, the 26th, appears beyond their reach. They seem to have a lock on two Democratic seats, the 6th and the 47th.

That leaves five red-hot Senate races, all in the Puget Sound suburban crescent. The GOP will have to win them all to take a 25-24 majority.

Safe Republican: Bob Morton, 7th Legislative District; Jerome Delvin, 8th LD; Janea Holmquist, 13th LD; Jim Honeyford, 15th LD; Doug Ericksen, 42nd LD; and the 31st District, where Sen. Pam Roach faces off against another Republican, Matt Richardson.

Likely Republican: Michael Baumgartner in the 6th (Spokane) and Joe Fain in the 47th (Kent, Auburn) appear poised to defeat freshman Democratic Sens. Chris Marr and Claudia Kaufman. Baumgartner carries a 6 percent lead out of the primary; Fain leads by a whopping 10 percent.

Toss-up: Given the national trends and primary election results, five Democratic seats appear dead even at this point: Steve Hobbs (D) v. Dave Schmidt (R), 44th (Bothell); Randy Gordon (D) v. Steve Litzow (R), 41st (Bellevue, Mercer Island); Tracy Eide (D) v. Tony Moore (R), 30th (Federal Way); Eric Oemig (D) v. Andy Hill (R), 45th (Redmond/Woodinville); and Rodney Tom (D) v. Gregg Bennett (R), 48th (Bellevue).

Safe Democratic: Derek Kilmer, 26th; Paul Shinn, 21st; Karen Keiser, 33rd; open seat in the 34th; Tim Sheldon, 35th; Jeanne Kohl-Welles, 36th; Adam Kline, 37th; the 38th (Nick Harper won the primary, pending a PDC challenge by Jean Berkey); Ed Murray, 43rd; and open seats in the 32nd and 46th.

State House of Representatives

Democrats have a huge 62-36 majority in the lower chamber. Coming out of the primary, Republicans currently have 41 seats in the 'ꀜsafe'ꀝ or 'ꀜlikely'ꀝ category. Democrats can count 44 seats safe or likely. This leaves 13 seats that will likely decide the majority, with Republicans needing to win 9 of 13 to secure a 50-48 majority.

Looking at it another way, the GOP currently leads (with more primary votes than the Democrats) in 46 House races. There are eight other races where the Democrats received between 50 percent and 52 percent. The Rs need to hold all their leads and win half of those eight races to take the majority.

It appears Republicans can count on winning four current Democratic seats, defeating Reps. John Driscoll, 6th District (Spokane); Tim Probst, 17th (Clark County); and Geoff Simpson, 47th (Kent, Auburn); and winning the Democratic open seat in the 17th. It also appears they will hold the open Republican seat in the 30th (Federal Way).

Republicans have the national wind at their backs. The Democrats have a huge cash advantage. The battle for the House looks like a toss-up.

These 13 Democratic seats are in the lean or toss-up category and will decide which party controls the House: two open seats in the 1st District (Shoreline); Dawn Morrell, 25th (Puyallup, Sumner); Larry Seaquist, 26th (Kitsap, Pierce counties); Kelli Linville, 42nd (Whatcom County); Hans Dunshee, 44th (South Snohomish County); Kathy Haigh and Fred Finn, 35th (Shelton); Troy Kelly and Tami Green, 28th (Lakewood); Marcie Maxwell, 41st (Mercer Island, Bellevue); Roger Goodman, 45th (Redmond); and the open Democratic seat in the 24th (Port Angeles).


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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.