Republicans could gain a better grip on Legislature

Low voter turnout and trends in national polls could make this a tough year on Democratic hopes for regaining control of Olympia.
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Low voter turnout and trends in national polls could make this a tough year on Democratic hopes for regaining control of Olympia.

The general election is now roughly one month away and momentum appears to be building behind a national Republican wave. This tide, combined, with low voter turnout, makes a Democratic takeover of the state Senate highly unlikely. In fact, Republicans may gain enough seats in the House to prompt talk of a conservative coalition emerging there, just as it has in the Senate.

All year I have observed that polling has not shown an advantage for either party. That is no longer true. During the month of September, Republicans moved out to a clear 4 percent lead in national generic ballot polling. This is not a huge lead, but it is enough to say that 2014 looks like a year that will favor the GOP across the board.

When you combine that with the fact that turnout will be extra low in Washington state due to the lack of a gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race at the top of the ticket, things begin to look very dicey for the Democrats. Democrats need votes from young people, the less affluent and non-white voters. A low turnout usually produces an electorate that is skewed towards the Republican Party.

There is still time for this trend to change. For instance, President Obama’s actions against ISIS may alter voter perceptions. But with one month to go, it appears even California billionaire Tom Steyer’s money won’t be enough to prevent the GOP from gaining ground in Olympia.

Given that, here is where the key races stand now:

Congressional districts

Pedro Celis, the anointed Republican challenger to freshman Democrat, Suzan DelBene, barely survived the primary and shook up his campaign team soon after that near disaster. The two key facts in this race, however are these: DelBene received just under 51 percent, in the primary, and the national trend is moving towards Republicans. If the generic Republican lead grows much more, this race becomes a toss-up.  For now, it continues to lean Democratic.

Former State Rep. Dan Newhouse and Tea Partier Clint Didier are the two Republicans vying to replace Doc Hastings in central Washington’s 4th CD. Newhouse is getting all the key endorsements, and is raising more money. Newhouse remains the heavy favorite to win this seat, as Didier is unlikely to win the votes of Democrats or moderate independents.

Our state’s other eight members of Congress are on the road to easy re-elections.

State Senate

To gain two seats and retake control of the Senate floor, Democrats will have to come back from roughly 10 percentage-point primary election deficits in two races, and/or defeat Sen. Tim Sheldon, who joined the predominantly-Republican Majority Coalition Caucus, in an all-D final in the 35th district. All in a year that seems to favor the GOP. Even Mr. Steyer may not have enough money to pull that off.

Discussions with consultants and campaign staffs, and a look at how money is being allocated to various races, seems to indicate that the Democrats have essentially walked away from challenges to Republican Sens. Jan Angel (26th LD) and Michael Baumgartner (6th LD). That leaves the following six races still in play:

Likely Republican:

28th LD (Lakewood, University Place): Sen. Steve O’Ban (R) vs. Rep. Tami Green (D).

45th LD (Redmond/Woodinville): Sen. Andy Hill (R) vs Matt Isenhower (D).

42nd LD (Whatcom County): Sen. Doug Ericksen (R) vs Seth Fleetwood (D).

30th LD (Federal Way): Former Rep. Mark Miloscia (R) vs Shari Song (D).

These have been the marquee races all year, but all these Republicans received 54 to 57 percent of the vote in the primary. Unless the national trend changes, it’s hard to see Republicans losing any of these seats.

Lean Democratic:

44th LD (Bothell area): Sen. Steve Hobbs (D) vs Jim Kellett (R). Hobbs’ received only 52 percent in the primary and the 44th district leans Republican. Republicans see an opportunity here and they are now pumping serious money into this race.

And then there is this unusual race:

35th LD (Mason County): Majority Coalition Democrat, Tim Sheldon vs. Democrat Irene Bowling.  Democrats are making a run at Sheldon, but it’s hard to imagine Bowling picking up enough votes from independents and Republicans to win this race, despite finishing first in the primary.

State House

Before the primary it appeared the Democrats were just as likely to pick up a seat or two in the House as were the Republicans. Now, only two of the nine seats that are clearly competitive are held by Republicans, and the GOP candidates led in both in the primary. Republicans, on the other hand, have a chance to win up to seven Democratic seats.

If the Republican trend persists, the GOP could cut the Democrats’ margin in the 98 member House to five to seven seats. Speaker Frank Chopp has been able to comfortably control the House since the 2006 Democratic landslide. Is that about to change?

Here is a rundown on the races both parties are focusing on:


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

35th LD (Shelton): Democratic Rep. Kathy Haigh vs Republican Dan Griffey.

Lean Republican:

26th LD (Gig Harbor): Republican Rep. Jesse Young vs. Former Democratic Sen. Nathan Schlicher.

44th LD (Mill Creek): GOP Mill Creek City Councilman Mark Harmsworth vs Democratic teacher Mike Wilson. This is a race to fill an open Republican seat.

Likely Republican:

28th LD Pos. 2 (Lakewood): Republican Paul Waggeman vs Democrat Christine Kilduff in this race for an open Democratic seat.

Lean Democratic:

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

25th LD (Puyallup, Sumner): Democratic incumbent Dawn Morrell vs Republican Melanie Stambaugh.

30th LD Pos. 2 (Federal Way): Republican Federal Way City Councilman Jack Dovey vs freshmen Democrat Roger Freeman. 

Likely Democratic:

47th LD Pos. 2 (Kent, Auburn): Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan vs. Republican Barry Knowles.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Under the Dome page.


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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.