Primary voting shows state Senate could stay Republican

But there are months of fighting ahead for both parties.
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The battle for control of the state.

But there are months of fighting ahead for both parties.

Democrats got in some punches. So did the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. Overall, Republicans still lead on points after Tuesday's preliminary boxing match for control of the Washington Senate.

If Tuesday's primary election had been for real, the Majority Coalition Caucus would still control the Washington Senate in 2015 with the same 26-23 advantage it enjoys today. The Democrats are in danger of losing the Federal Way-based 30th District, which had been held by retiring Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide. Meanwhile the majority coalition appears in danger of losing the 48th District held by the coalition's leader Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who decided not to run for re-election.

The stakes are high. The Republican-controlled Washington Senate is the only real political roadblock stopping Gov. Jay Inslee’s agendas on climate change, transportation and education. Inslee's proposals include raising taxes and closing tax breaks, which makes the GOP-oriented Senate Majority Coalition Caucus a vital safeguard for taxpayers or a stubborn barrier to progress, depending on your personal politics.

Meanwhile in Seattle's most interesting state legislative races, Democrats Pramila Jayapal and Louis Watanabe survived the six-way fight to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Adam Kline in southeast Seattle's 37th District, easily outdistancing third-place finisher Republican Rowland Martin. The split ended up Jayapal 51 percent, Watanabe 17 percent and Martin 11 percent. In central Seattle's 43rd District, Socialist Jess Spear trailed Democrat House Speaker Frank Chopp 4,192 to 17,620 — a 19 to 81 percent split. In 2012, Spear's Socialist mentor Kshama Sawant captured 28 percent of the vote against Chopp.

In Republican-on-Republican violence in the state's bitterest Senate contest, 31st District incumbent Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, led challenger Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, by a 40-39 percent split. Democrat/stealth Tea Partier Lynda Messner is out of contention for the general election with just 21 percent of the vote.

Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, the sole Democrat remaining in the Majority Coalition Caucus, might survive his 35th District primary to advance along with Democrat Irene Bowling to November's final ballot. Bowling collected 8,240 votes to Sheldon's 7,900 and libertarian Republican Travis Couture's 7,504. The split was Bowling at roughly 35 percent, Sheldon at 33 percent and Couture close behind at 32 percent. Results could still shift with the late mail-in ballots. Political action committees pumped roughly $161,000 into Sheldon's campaign in the past several days. If he survives, Sheldon will likely pick up most of Couture's votes heading into November.

Right now, the Majority Coalition Caucus — 24 Republicans plus Sheldon and Tom of the 48th District — holds a three-vote advantage in the state Senate.

Twenty-five of the 49 state Senate seats are up for re-election. Fifteen of those can be safely guaranteed for the incumbents. Prior to Tuesday, the other 10 ranged from legitimate toss-ups to races where challengers had longshot chances for an upset. Eight of the 10 are held by six Republicans and the two coalition Democrats, Sheldon and Tom. Two are held by regular Democrats.

As of Tuesday evening, the majority coalition posted the higher vote totals in seven of its eight potentially threatened districts.  Democrats posted the majority in one of their two potentially threatened districts, and they look ready to pick up an extra seat in the 48th — Tom's district.

Doing the math, the majority coalition appears (tentatively) to be in the driver's seat in these potential swing districts  — the 6th, 15th, 26th, 28th, 30th, 35th, 42nd and 45th. Just as tentatively, the minority Democrats appear in control of these potential swing districts — the 44th and 48th.

Of the 10 potential swing districts, the primary results in these four are close enough to show that they are more in play in the fall than the others — 28th, 44th, 45th and, possibly, the 30th. The reason? They had lower voter turnouts, which means that a candidate has less ground to make up in raw vote totals than might be assumed from the spread between the winners' and losers' percentages.

If either side wins three of these four district races, it has an extremely good chance of controlling the Senate in 2015. On Tuesday, the GOP was ahead in three of four. 

But don't rule the Democrats out. The party can expect a big shot of cash in the fall for several potential swing districts. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, a California hedge fund manager, plans to pump lots of money into several Washington State Senate races in an attempt to clear the way for Gov. Jay Inslee's climate change measures, The New York Times reported Sunday. The majority coalition opposes most of Inslee's proposals. Steyer's organization, NextGen Climate, has registered as a political action committee with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

Inslee is looking at pitching a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade-system and other measures to combat carbon emissions and ocean acidification in the 2015 legislative session. Steyer injected $250,000 into Democrat Nathan Schlicher's unsuccessful defense of his 26th District Senate seat against Republican Jan Angel in a 2013 special election. Information was not available Tuesday on which majority coalition seats would be targeted by NextGen Climate.

Here is a rundown of the potential Senate swing districts — other than the 35th where the three-way race is still somewhat up in the air — showing why some could be toss-ups and why some challengers are more likely longshots. One figure to keep in mind is that many state Senate races totaled 25,000 or more voters. That means a two-candidate total of less than 25,000 votes translates to a lower-than-optimal turnout. Total voter turnouts in the 10,000 to 20,000 range, as of vote counting time on Election Night, means each side has plenty of untapped potential in that district.

6th District, 'ꀨSouthern and northern Spokane, Cheney, Fairchild Air Force Base, and rural Spokane County.

Longtime Spokane resident, filmmaker and Democrat Rich Cowan trailed ultra-conservative Republican incumbent Michael Baumgartner 14,956 to 11,210 in this district, which leans GOP. That is a 57 percent to 43 percent split. Democrats hope Cowan's deep roots and Baumgartner's very conservative stances will make the Republican vulnerable. Republicans scoff at that portrayal. But the 6th elected a Democrat in 2006 before it was redrawn to become more GOP-friendly. Both sides are pumping a lot of money into this race: Baumgartner has raised $329,255 so far. Cowan has amassed $136,662.

15th District, the mid-Yakima Valley, stretching from the eastern fringes of Yakima to Sunnyside and Granger.

Incumbent Sen. Jim Honeyford, R- Sunnyside, whacked Democrat challenger Gabriel Munoz 7,347 to 2,447. That's a 75 percent to 25 percent split. Honeyford was unopposed in 2010, but faced a high-profile activist, the late Tomas Villanueva, in 2006. Villanueva captured 38 percent of the vote in November 2006. In this year's primary, only 9,794 people had voted in time to be counted on Tuesday — a very low turnout. The wild card lurking here is that the 15th District has become 55 percent Hispanic. But Latinos in Eastern Washington have historically been under-registered to vote. Munoz's only chance of winning is to register and turn out thousands of additional Hispanic voters in the fall. Munoz trails in fundraising by a very significant margin: $97,288 to $4,535.

26th District, Southern Kitsap County and a piece of Pierce County.

Veteran Republican legislator Jan Angel leads Democrat and retired teacher Judy Arbogast 15,213 to 11,675 in this slightly GOP-leaning district. That's a 57 percent to 43 percent split. Angel has raised $176,377 to date, nearly double Arbogast's $90,531 total.

28th District, Southern Pierce County.

Republican Steve O'Ban, the incumbent, has out-polled longtime Democratic State Rep. Tami Green 10,508 to 8.091 in the initial counting. That's a 56 percent to 44 percent lead. But the total votes are significantly below 25,000, suggesting both sides have untapped potential in the 28th. Fundraising totals: Green $152,821, O'Ban $368,729.

30th District, Northern Pierce and southern King Counties with Federal Way in the middle.

Mark Miloscia, who represented the 30th in the state House for years as a conservative Democrat, has switched parties to take on Democrat Shari Song, who recently moved from Bellevue to Federal Way to oppose him. On Tuesday evening, Miloscia tallied 8,565 votes to her 6,396. That's a 57 percent to 43 percent split. But the total turnout of 14,961 voters means each side can pick up at least a few thousand extra votes in November. Conventional wisdom says the 30th is the most vulnerable Democratic Senate seat; Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, is retiring. The primary results give Republicans an extremely good chance of picking it up. War chest war: Miloscia $156,742; Song $146,978.

42nd District Major chunk of Whatcom County, plus parts of Bellingham. 

Republican Doug Ericksen led Bellingham Democrat Seth Fleetwood 13,473 to 10,194, which is a 57 percent to 43 percent split. Ericksen has $180,841 in the bank compared to Fleetwood’s $97,159. 

44th District Stretching from Lake Stevens and Marysville to the Mill Creek area.

Moderate Democratic incumbent Steve Hobbs tallied 8,084 votes to Republican challenger Jim Kellett's 6,583  — a 55 percent to 45 percent split. Again, the low turnout signals a close race in November. Kellett has collected $58,465; Hobbs $252,217.

45th District Redmond, Kirkland and part of Bellevue.

Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, led Democrat challenger Matt Isenhower 10,528 to 8,992  — a 54 percent to 46 percent split. Again, the dynamics of a low primary turnout are in play. This legislative race, the most expensive in the state, will be a bellwether on what the Seattle suburbs think of the Majority Coalition Caucus. Hill chairs the Senate Ways & Means Committee and enjoys a huge amount of Olympia clout. Hill has raised more money than any other legislative candidate: $471,752. Isenhower has raised more money than any other legislative challenger: $165,849.

48th District, Medina and much of Bellevue, plus parts of Kirkland and Redmond.

Democratic Rep. Cyrus Habib led Republican Michelle Darnell 10,477 to 6,140, which is a 63 percent to 37 percent split. This is the contest to replace majority coalition Democrat Rodney Tom. And it looks like the minority Democrats are poised to pick up this seat. Habib has banked $161,626 to Darnell's $7,022.

Between now and November, the punches and the cash will keep flying in many of these races.

Full results for all legislative races can be found on the Secretary of State's website.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8