GOP gains ground in battle for state Senate control

Inside Politics: Republicans also positioned to trim the Democratic advantage in the state House of Representatives. Even U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene is at risk.
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Inside Politics: Republicans also positioned to trim the Democratic advantage in the state House of Representatives. Even U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene is at risk.

It may be due to astute candidate recruitment, or it may be due to pure luck, but Republicans have certainly caught some breaks as the battle for control of the state Senate – the main event in this year’s election season – heats up.  Republicans have been able to put at least two Democratic seats in play, while Democrats have been unable to recruit top tier candidates in several competitive districts.

In the big picture, this continues to look like a year without a dominant partisan tide.  Normally the president’s party loses seats in off-year elections, especially in the sixth year of a president’s tenure, but national generic ballot polling on which party voters prefer is basically dead even between the two parties. In contrast, Republicans had a 9 percentage point advantage just before their landslide wins in 2010, while Democrats had an 11 point lead just before their big wins in 2006.  The atmosphere could certainly change, but right now this looks like a year without a tide.

Here is how things look in the congressional and state legislative races for this year.

Congressional outlook

Republicans have succeeded in fielding a serious challenger to freshmen Democrat Rep. Suzan DelBene (below) in the 1st Congressional District, which covers East King County from Redmond north and large parts of Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties. Pedro Celis is a retired Microsoft engineer who has long been a leader in the Republican Party and the Hispanic community.

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National Republican groups are fully engaged in helping Celis.  The Celis campaign has hired a top shelf team of consultants, and is raising money. Celis can probably put some personal resources into the race.  The 1st was drawn to be a competitive district, and the GOP jas done recent polling showing the district actually leans slightly Republican. But DelBene is now an experienced campaigner with very deep personal pockets.  This is a race to watch, but for now it leans to the Democrats.

Veteran Congressman Doc Hastings’ retirement will create a furious battle for central Washington’s 4th Congressional district. This race will be fun to watch, but the drama will be centered on what kind of Republican ultimately wins the seat.  Will it be Tea Partier Clint Didier, or a more mainstream choice, such as state Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry or former state Rep. Dan Newhouse?

Our state’s other eight members of Congress appear to be cruising to re-election.

State Senate outlook

Democrats and their allies are determined to gain the two seats they need to retake nominal control of the Senate. Republicans and their Majority Coalition Caucus allies would love to pad their current 26-23 advantage on the Senate floor.  Since my first report in February, two races have moved into different categories, and both switches favor the GOP, with the 30th Legislative District race going from leaning D to leaning R, and the 47th District race moving from lean R to likely R.

 Here is the current outlook on competitive Senate race.


28th LD (Lakewood, University Place): Sen. Steve O’Ban (R) vs. Rep. Tami Green (D): O’Ban was elected to the House for the first time in 2012, then appointed to the Senate soon after when Republican Sen. Mike Carrell passed away.  Green has been elected to the House five times.  Green is more familiar to voters, but the district leans slightly Republican. One consultant described this to me as, “the race of the year.”

45th LD (Redmond/Woodinville): Sen. Andy Hill (R) vs Matt Isenhower (D): Hill barely unseated a Democratic incumbent four years ago in a very good Republican year. Isenhower is a Navy veteran and now an executive at Amazon. Hill has served as Way and Means Chairman under the coalition, making him the point person on budget issues. The district is evenly split; and Isenhower is already raising significant funds.

48th LD (Bellevue): Rodney Tom is running as a Democrat. The Democrats, however, are backing former Kirkland mayor, Joan McBride. Democratic interest groups will spend a fortune trying to convince this Democratic leaning district to elect a “real” Democrat. Republicans are rooting for Tom, and believe that McBride is a less formidable candidate than other Ds who turned down the race.

Leaning GOP/Coalition:

30th LD (Federal Way):  Veteran Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide is retiring, and former Democratic state Rep. Mark Miloscia is running as Republican. This tectonic shift in Federal Way has made things much tougher for the Democrats in their quest to retake the Senate. The 30th leans slightly Democratic, but Miloscia is well known and a tireless campaigner. Can the Democrats recruit a serious candidate to oppose him? Right now this looks like a GOP pickup.

6th LD (suburban Spokane): Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R) vs Rich Cowan (D). Baumgartner is running for his first re-election. Cowan is a film producer who was the Democratic nominee for Congress against Cathy McMorriss-Rogers in 2012. Cowan is off to a good fundraising start, but this is Spokane County, and the 6th may not be winnable for the Ds unless there is a big national Democratic tide.

Leaning Democratic:

44th LD (Bothell area): Republicans say they have a serious candidate set to announce against Democratic incumbent, Steve Hobbs. The 44th leans slightly R, so this race will be competitive if the Rs do indeed have a strong candidate.

Likely Republican:

47th LD (Auburn/Kent/Covington): The inability of the Democrats to recruit a candidate against freshman GOP Sen. Joe Fain causes this race to move to the likely R category. Fain has had an impressive first term, and works his district hard. This is a highly competitive south King County district: Can the Ds find a serious candidate in time to put this race in play?

Democrats say they are looking for opponents for Republican incumbents, Jan Angel (26th LD, Gig Harbor), Pam Roach (31st LD, Bonney Lake), and Doug Ericksen (42nd LD, Whatcom), but all three districts lean pretty heavily to the R side, and these incumbents are all proven winners.

State House outlook

The situations in the competitive House races are beginning to sort themselves out, and, once again, it appears that the GOP is on the offensive in the House this cycle, as they seek to cut in to the Democrats' 55-43 advantage.

All 98 seats are up. Most seats are safe. Here is the current outlook on competitive races


17th LD (Vancouver area): Rep. Monica Stonier (D) vs. Lynda Wilson (R). Stonier won an open seat race by 139 votes in 2012. Wilson is a small business person and the recently resigned Clark County Republican chair. Wilson is off to a solid fundraising start.

28th LD (Lakewood): Both seats will be competitive, as the two House members elected in 2012, Steve O’Ban and Tami Green, are now running against each other for the Senate. Six candidates, including Republican Dick Muri, a former Pierce County Council member who was appointed to fill O’Ban’s seat, are currently signed up to contest these two seats. The 28th is a true swing district.

30th LD (Federal Way): Federal Way leans slightly to the Ds. GOP Rep. Linda Kochmar won her seat two years ago by 655 votes over Democrat Roger Flygare, who has announced that he is running again. Can Kochmar survive without a big Republican tide?

 35th LD (Shelton): Democratic Rep. Kathy Haigh won with only 51 percent of the vote in 2012 against Republican Dan Griffey. Griffey is running again, but another Republican, Josiah Rowell, is, so far, raising the big bucks in this district. Can Haigh hold on in a district that leans to the GOP?

44th LD (Bothell/Mountlake Terrace): GOP Rep. Mike Hope is retiring, creating an open seat in a swing district. Republicans think they have a winner in Mark Harmsworth, who ran for the other 44th district House seat two years ago.

Leaning Republican:

26th LD (Gig Harbor):  Republican Jesse Young was appointed to the open seat vacated by Jan Angel, who was elected to the Senate last year. The 26th is a swing district, but to this point the Democrats have not recruited a candidate.

47th LD (Kent/Auburn/Covington): Republican Rep. Mark Hargrove barely survived 2012, winning by only 157 votes, but this is another race where the Ds haven't been able to find a candidate.

Leaning Democratic:

26th LD (Gig Harbor): Republicans are excited about their challenger to veteran Democrat Rep. Larry Seaquist. Michelle Caldier is a dentist who has already raised over $40,000, far more than Seaquist. The 26th is a district that leans to the GOP but Seaquist, a popular former Navy officer, has fought off tough challenges before.

45th LD (Redmond/Kirkland): Republicans believe Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman is vulnerable, and they claim they have a strong candidate set to announce.

44th LD (Bothell/Mountlake Terrace): Republicans also claim that they are going to – again – make a strong run at incumbent Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee.

Given past election results, the following seats could become competitive if serious candidate emerge:

Potentially Competitive Republican seats:

Chad Magendanz (5th LD, Issaquah), Jeff Holy (6th LD, Spokane), David Hayes (10th LD, Skagit), Drew MacEwen (35th LD, Shelton), Liz Scott (39th LD, Skagit), Jason Overstreet and Vincent Buys (42nd LD, Whatcom).

Potentially Competitive Democratic seats:

Dawn Morrell (25th LD, Puyallup, Sumner).


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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.