Control of Olympia: It's a primary free-for-all

Inside Politics: There's no overwhelming national trend this year, leaving Democrats with a chance to regain a free hand in state government.
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The Washington State Capitol

Inside Politics: There's no overwhelming national trend this year, leaving Democrats with a chance to regain a free hand in state government.

Ballots have arrived, along with campaign mailings. Campaign signs sprout like weeds along arterials. The primary election is only two weeks away, and it will serve as the most reliable predictor of the November election results.

History has shown that in our wide open, essentially non-partisan system, the results in November rarely differ more than a few percentage points from the primary results. But what do we know about where the key races stand now?

As usual, I have heard bits and pieces of polling data from various consultants, but the most reliable pre-primary data comes from fundraising totals. One candidate does not have to out-raise another to win. But at this point, if you have two candidates who have raised credible amounts of money in a district that has produced close results in the past, you know you are likely looking at a competitive race.

By the way, there are many highly competitive races around the state pitting candidates from the same party against one another, but policy is driven by the party in the majority. So, my focus this year is on congressional races, and legislative races that can affect the balance of power in Olympia.

In the big picture, this continues to look like a year without a prevailing national tide. Democrats are struggling to maintain control of the U.S. Senate because they must defend seven seats this year in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012. But the most recent national polls have actually shown a very slight Democratic advantage in the generic ballot poll, which is normal in a year without a big partisan tide running either way. Today, it appears candidates are going to win or lose on their own, rather than be swept in or out of office by a partisan landslide.

U.S. Congressional Districts

Washington state has two competitive races for the U.S. House of Representatives this year, in Western Washington's First Congressional District in Western Washington and the Fourth Congressional District in Central Washington.

In the First District, which runs from Redmond to Canada, Pedro Celis, a retired Microsoft engineer who has long been a leader in the Republican Party and the Hispanic community, is the candidate considered to be a serious contender here against freshman Democrat, Suzan DelBene. Celis has raised just over $400,000, a respectable total for a challenger, and national Republican groups are fully engaged in helping him. The 1st CD,  was drawn to be a competitive district. This is a race to watch, but for now it leans to the Democrats, as it has for months.

Eight Republicans have filed to replace veteran Congressman Doc Hastings in central Washington’s 4th district.  Former state Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican, has raised the most money and run the most active campaign.  Will the final be between Newhouse and Tea Partier Clint Didier, or can a Democrat make it into the Top Two? Who will be on the November ballot?

July fundraising totals appear to confirm that our state’s other eight members of Congress are on the road to easy re-elections.

With the July fundraising totals, we now have enough data to further narrow the field of truly competitive races. There are a host of competitive Senate races, as had been expected. On the House side, however, many races we thought might be competitive have failed to materialize.

State Senate Outlook

Democrats need a net gain of two seats to retake control of the Senate floor. They effectively got one of those two seats when Sen. Rodney Tom chose to retire in Bellevue’s 48th Legislative District. Democratic Rep. Cyrus Habib faces scant GOP opposition now to win that seat. Can the Ds find one more net gain?

Toss Up:

28th Legislative District (Lakewood, University Place): Sen. Steve O’Ban (R) vs. Rep. Tami Green (D). Two very strong candidates battling it out in a 50/50 district. 

Lean Republican:

45th LD (Redmond/Woodinville):  Sen. Andy Hill (R) vs. Matt Isenhower (D): The 45th is a tough district for the GOP, but Hill has raised a massive $450,000 and is running a very strong campaign. Isenhower has raised $138,000.

42nd LD (Whatcom County): Sen. Doug Ericksen (R) vs. Seth Fleetwood (D): Fleetwood, a former member of the both the Whatcom County Council and the Bellingham City Council, has raised enough money to demonstrate that the Democrats are serious about making this a race. 

30th LD (Federal Way): Former Rep. Mark Miloscia (R) vs. Shari Song (D). Miloscia is clearly the stronger, more well-known candidate, but Federal Way leans Democratic. Democrats want to hold the seat; Democratic incumbent Tracey Eide decided against seeking re-election.

Likely Republican/Majority Coalition:

6th LD (Suburban Spokane): Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R) vs. film entrepreneur Rich Cowan (D).  The 6th just appears too Republican for a Democrat to win without a big, national Democratic tide.

35th LD (Mason County) Maverick Democrat Tim Sheldon, who votes with the Republicans as a member of the Senate Majority Coalition, has both a Republican and a Democratic opponent. He is dramatically outraising both of them. But let’s see what the primary brings before calling Sheldon safe.

26th LD (Gig Harbor): GOP Sen. Jan Angel vs. former teacher Judy Arbogast. The 26th, however, leans pretty heavily Republican, and this race will likely cease to be competitive after the primary.

Likely Democratic:

44th LD (Bothell area): Sen. Steve Hobbs (D) vs. Jim Kellett (R): Are Republicans serious about challenging Hobbs? Kellet has raised less than $30,000 — while Hobbs has received more than $220,000.

State House Outlook

One thing appears certain: Democrats, who hold a 55-to-43 majority, will again control the House next year. But can the GOP gain seats, as they have the past three elections?

Here is the current outlook on competitive races, beginning with races that have changed their status since my report following the May candidate filing period:

28th LD Pos. 1 (Lakewood), from Potentially Competitive to Likely Republican: The 28th is a swing district. Rep. Dick Muri has been elected here before as a Piece County Councilman. But his Democratic opponent, Mary Moss, is raising enough money to keep this race on the watch list, at least for now.

31st LD Pos. 1 (Bonney Lake) from Lean Republican to Likely Republican: Given the fundraising totals it appears the Ds are conceding this open Republican seat to Republican Drew Stokesbary.

30th LD Pos. 2 (Federal Way) from Potentially Competitive to Likely Democratic: Republicans convinced Federal Way City Councilman Jack Dovey to file against freshman Democratic Rep. Roger Freeman. This could become a race to watch.

45th LD Pos. 1 (Redmond) from Potentially Competitive to Likely Democratic: Republican Joel Hussey lost to Democrat Rep. Roger Goodman two years ago. Hussey is running again, and Republicans are going hard after Goodman on personal issues relating to his divorce – a risky strategy. Will it work? The 45th leans Democratic. Let’s see what the primary brings.

From Potentially Competitive to Safe Republican: These Republican incumbents appear safe: Chad Magendanz and Jay Rodne (5th LD, Issaquah), David Hayes (10th LD, Skagit County), Paul Harris (17th LD, Clark County) Hans Zeiger (25th LD, Puyallup) Drew MacEwen (35th LD, Shelton), Liz Scott (39th LD, Skagit), and the seats in Whatcom County's 42nd.

Potentially Competitive to Safe Democrat: And these Democratic incumbents appear safe: Dawn Morrell (25th LD, Puyallup, Sumner), Chris Hurst (31st LD, Bonney Lake), and Hans Dunshee (44th LD, Mill Creek).

These House races have not changed and continue to look competitive:

Toss Ups:

17th LD (Vancouver area): Rep. Monica Stonier (D) vs. Lynda Wilson (R). 

28th LD Pos. 2 (Lakewood): Two Democrats, and two Republicans, each of whom appears to be mounting a serious campaign, have filed for this open seat.

47th LD (Kent/Auburn/Covington): Republican Rep. Mark Hargrove vs. Democrat Chris Barringer, chief of staff to the King County Sherriff. 

Lean Republican:

26th LD (Gig Harbor): Republican Rep. Jesse Young vs. former Democratic Sen. Nathan Schlicher. A showdown between two men who have been appointed to the Legislature, but neither has been elected. Schlicher lost to Jan Angel last year when he ran to keep the Senate seat he had been appointed to fill.

30th LD (Federal Way): GOP Rep. Linda Kochmar vs. Democratic firefighter Greg Baruso.

44th LD (Bothell/Mountlake Terrace): GOP Mill Creek City Councilman Mark Harmsworth vs. Democrat  teacher Mike Wilson battling for an open seat that has been held by a Republican.

Lean Democratic:

26th LD (Gig Harbor): Republican dentist Dr. Michelle Caldier vs. veteran Democrat Rep. Larry Seaquist. 

35th LD (Shelton): Democratic Rep. Kathy Haigh vs. one of the two Republicans campaigning in the primary, Dan Griffey or Josiah Rowell.


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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.