Inside Politics, 2012: Can Republicans control Legislature? Races look tight

Even coming up short in November, the GOP could well control the agenda in Olympia next year.

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Washington State Capitol

Even coming up short in November, the GOP could well control the agenda in Olympia next year.

Democrats won huge majorities in both houses of the state Legislature in the 2006 anti-Bush landslide. Since then, the GOP has slowly won seats back. Once again this year, the Republicans will largely be playing offense, while the Ds concentrate on incumbent protection.

The dust is still settling from redistricting. Politicians are still deciding whether or not to run.  We will know much more once the legislative session ends in March.  Republicans may or may not win outright majorities this November in either house, but a gain of just a few seats would allow them to work with moderate, pro-business, “road kill” Democrats  to effectively control the agenda in 2013.

Later this year I will start projecting possible wins and losses for each party. At this early stage, however, here are the races that are likely to be competitive.

State Senate

Twenty-four seats are up, 12 currently held by Rs and 12 held by Ds. Republicans need a net gain of 3 take a 25-24 majority.  Republicans have two clear targets, and are looking to develop two more, but they also have two potentially vulnerable incumbents who may face tough races.

Likely competitive races

25th District — open seat: Democratic Sen. Jim Kastama is running for Secretary of State. The 25th district, made up of suburban communities east of Tacoma, including Puyallup and Sumner, has been trending Republican. In 2010, Republicans narrowly defeated a Democratic House incumbent here, giving the GOP both House seats.  The Republican candidate for the open Senate seat is Rep. Bruce Dammeier. Dammeier, a Navy veteran and former school board member, easily won an open seat in 2008, and was even more easily re-elected in 2010.

He is considered a rising star, and a Republican leader on education. Dammeier has over $150,000 in the bank, and the Democrats have not recruited a candidate yet. This looks like a likely GOP win, but the district is still competitive and the Ds are not likely to give it up without a fight.

10th District — Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D): Republicans believe that Rep. Barbara Bailey will challenge Haugen, who has served in Olympia since 1982.  Bailey was first elected to the House in 2002. The 10th is made up of parts of the northwest Puget Sound: Island County and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties.  The 10th leans Republican, and the GOP holds both House seats.

Will Haugen run again? Will Bailey really run? If the answer to both is yes, this becomes a classic brawl between two veteran politicians. Even if Bailey opts out, the Senate Rs will likely recruit another candidate. It is hard to see them winning the majority without winning the 10th.

Potentially competitive:

1st District — Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D): Republicans have never paid much attention to the 1st, a district made up of close-in suburbs directly north of Lake Washington, including Kirkland, Bothell, and Mountlake Terrace. Democrats have long controlled all three legislative seats.  But in 2010, both House seats came open and both races were close. The two GOP House candidates received 47 percent and 49 percent.

Then redistricting made the district slightly more Republican. This has drawn the attention of the Senate Rs as they look for targets in addition to the 25th and 10th. Sen. McAuliffe, chair of the Senate Education Committee, is 71, and has served in the Senate since 1993. There are rumors she will not seek re-election. Given the right set of circumstances, this race could become very interesting.

19th District — Brian Hatfield (D):  Republicans have never won, or even seriously contested races in the 19th, a very rural district along the Pacific Coast (Grays Harbor, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties). But Dino Rossi received 49 percent here in 2008, and redistricting made the 19th more Republican. The rest of rural America is voting Republican, why not the 19th LD? Hatfield has served in the House and Senate since 1994 and has never faced a tough race. Can the Rs recruit a candidate to put this race in play?

41st District — Sen. Steve Litzow (R):  Four years ago, Fred Jarrett won this Mercer Island/south Bellevue district for the Democrats. Then King County Executive Dow Constantine hired Jarrett to serve as his deputy. In 2010, Republican Steve Litzow won the election to complete Jarrett’s term. Now Litzow must face the voters again for a full four year term.  The 41st leans Democratic. Litzow won by only 194 votes two years ago. If the Ds find a strong candidate, this race will be competitive. But Litzow is a strong campaigner, has positioned himself as a very moderate Republican, and has roughly $100,000 in the bank.

28th District —Sen. Mike Carrell (R):  This is the other seat where Republicans may be vulnerable. The 28th comprised of the suburbs directly south of Tacoma, Lakewood and University Place, is highly competitive, but leans D.  In the 2010 GOP landslide, both Republican House candidates came close, but lost. Redistricting did improve the district slightly for the GOP. Carrell was elected to the House in 1994, and has served in the Senate since 2004. He is a tough campaigner, and has narrowly survived several close elections. Still, if the Democrats recruit a serious candidate, this will be a very competitive race.

State House of Representatives

All 98 seats are up.  Republicans need a net gain of eight to take a 50-48 majority. 

Likely competitive races:

30th District — open seat:  Veteran Democratic Rep. Mark Miloscia is running for State Auditor. The 30th is a south King County suburban district made up primarily of the city of Federal Way. The district leans slightly Democrat, but Republicans picked up an open House seat here in 2010, and they believe they have a top tier candidate to win this seat too. Tony Moore is an African American business owner and the president of the Federal Way School Board. In 2010, Moore received 48 percent running for the Senate against veteran Democrat incumbent Tracy Eide. If Moore is truly running, the GOP probably has the edge in this race.

45th District — open seat:  Rep. Roger Goodman is one of five serious Democrats running for Congress in the re-drawn 1st Congressional Democrats. If he stays in the race the GOP has a great chance to win this seat.  The 45th is part of the suburbs east of Seattle, including Redmond, Woodinville, and Duvall.  Goodman barely survived 2010, winning 51 percent to 49 percent, and redistricting improved the 45th for the GOP.

35th District — both seats: The 35th made up of Shelton and the other rural communities east of Olympia, is a Republican-leaning district represented by three Democrats in the Legislature. (Although Sen. Tim Sheldon has always voted like a Republican on most issues.) Rossi won here in 2008 with 51 percent, and redistricting made the district a bit more Republican. In 2010, Republicans came close in both House races, receiving 47 percent against Rep. Fred Finn, and 49 percent against Rep. Kathy Haigh. 

Finn is retiring and Republicans have a strong candidate for the open seat in Drew MacEwen, vice president of the Shelton Chamber of Commerce.  Fireman Dan Griffey is once again running against Haigh. Griffey came very close last time with very little money. The GOP will fully fund both of these races this time and may win them both.

17th District  — Rep. Tim Probst (D): Probst is the only Democrat left representing the Clark County (Vancouver) suburbs. The 17th is a Republican district that became a bit more Republican with redistricting. Probst survived a strong challenge in 2010, but how long can he hang on in a part of the state that is clearly trending Republican? House Republicans are looking hard for a candidate.

28th District — both seats:  We discussed the 28th's highly competitive nature in the Senate section. Republicans came close against Democratic Reps. Troy Kelley and Tami Green in 2010 (47 percent and 48.5 percent for their respective challengers) The candidate situation is still being sorted out, but it is likely that one or both of these seats will be targeted by the GOP again this cycle.

Potentially competitive Democratic seats

1st District — both seats: Again, we discussed the 1st in the Senate section. Republicans came close in both open seat House races in 2010 (47 percent and 49 percent). If they recruit strong candidates, they may challenge for one or both of these seats again.

44th District — Rep. Hans Dunshee:  Dunshee has been frustrating Republicans since 1992, consistently getting re-elected in a south Snohomish County suburban district that leans Republican. The Republican candidate received 48 percent against Dunshee in 2010, and the GOP is likely to try and take another run at Dunshee in 2012. Can they find a strong candidate?

31st District — Rep. Chris Hurst:  The 31st district is made up of second-ring south King and east Pierce county suburbs, such as Enumclaw and Bonney Lake, and is a solid Republican district.  The 31st is so Republican the Democrats didn’t even contest an open seat House race here in 2010.  Hurst is a leader of the moderate road-kill Democrats and does everything he can to distance himself from his party and work with Republicans in Olympia and in his district. So far it has worked, but can he survive if the Republican leadership finds and funds a strong candidate against him?

47th District — Rep. Pat Sullivan:  The 47th is another competitive south King County district made up of parts of Kent, Auburn, and Covington.  The 47th leans very slightly Republican.  The GOP defeated an incumbent Democratic Senator and a veteran D House member here in 2010.  The surviving Democrat is Pat Sullivan, the House Majority Leader.  Sullivan is popular, but a strong opponent could put his seat in jeopardy.  The House Republicans are looking for just such an opponent.

26th District — Rep. Larry Seaquist:  The 26th is another Republican-leaning district sending Ds to Olympia. The district covers parts of Pierce and Kitsap counties, including Gig Harbor, Port Orchard, and downtown Bremerton. Seaquist is a popular retired former naval officer who survived with 52 percent in 2010. His GOP opponent, Doug Richards, is off and running again. Is Seaquist in danger or was 2010 the GOP high-water mark?

Potentially competitive Republican seats

25th District —  both seats: As we discussed in the Senate section, Pierce County’s 25th Legislative District is clearly trending Republican. But the GOP has to defend an open seat (Rep. Dammeier is running for the Senate) and freshman Rep. Hans Zeiger, who won by 47 votes in 2010. These two seats might be the best targets the Ds have to increase their majority.

47th District —  Rep. Mark Hargrove: As we discussed above, the 47th leans very slightly Republican. In 2010, Hargrove defeated a severely politically wounded Democratic House veteran, Geoff Simpson.  Hargrove is considered a social conservative and Democrats believe he is too conservative for this suburban district. Will they make a strong run at taking this seat back?

5th District —  open seat:  GOP Rep. Glenn Anderson is running for Lieutenant Governor. The 5th is a Republican-leaning east King County suburban district centered on the city of Issaquah. The GOP has a strong candidate in Chad Magendanz, president of the Issaquah School Board.  Winning here would be difficult for the Ds, but they may make the attempt.


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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.