Election 2014: What to expect when the smoke clears

The Republicans could pick up seats in both houses of the Legislature. But what happens if the Democrats do a great job of getting out the vote?
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The Republicans could pick up seats in both houses of the Legislature. But what happens if the Democrats do a great job of getting out the vote?

Politics is part art, and part science. Those of us who like to think we can analyze this process look for signs wherever we can find them; especially in regards to legislative elections where polling is scarce. As we head into election week, all the signs I see point to the GOP retaining control of the state Senate and making gains in the House.

First, there are the fundamentals of the election. The President’s party usually loses congressional and legislative seats in off-year elections. Second, President Obama's approval ratings are low, which hurts Democrats up and down the ticket.  

Third, the national generic ballot polling indicates a Republican advantage of 2.8 percent; not a huge lead, but enough to predict Republicans are ahead in battleground suburban districts.

Fourth, low turnout favors Republicans, and the turnout will be extremely low in Washington state this year due to the lack of a gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race.

Fifth, and most importantly, the results of Washington state’s primary, in which all voters are allowed to vote for any candidate, historically serves as a good indicator of how a race will end up. Candidates who trail by more than a few points in the primary — alone or in aggregate with other members of their party — rarely win in November.

There are two major variables we can’t predict now: Will there be movement toward either party between now and Tuesday? And will the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote effort cancel out the other advantages the GOP enjoys?

Still, using those indicators, here are my best guesses regarding the partisan races we have been watching all year.

First Congressional District: Freshman Suzan DelBene was vulnerable. The First is a competitive district, and this is a Republican year. But Republican Pedro Celis has raised less than $700,000 and has probably just not done enough to reach voters. Unless the Republican wave gets bigger than it appears now, DelBene will be re-elected.

Fourth Congressional District: Tea Party Republican Clint Didier vs. Republican Dan Newhouse. Central Washington is conservative.  Very conservative. Didier’s anti-government/anti-establishment message resonates. But Newhouse is an attractive candidate; he has more money; and there are enough moderates and Democrats in the Fourth to prevent Didier from winning. Newhouse is likely to be the replacement for Rep. Doc Hastings.

Washington’s other eight U.S. House incumbents will be comfortably re-elected.

State Senate: For most, this is the main event of the 2014 elections. Democrats and their allies came into this year determined to win back control of the upper house. That now seems highly unlikely.

All year we focused on the following Senate seats:

  • Sixth Legislative District: (Spokane) Held by freshman Republican Michael Baumgartner.
  • 26th (Gig Harbor) Republican Jan Angel.
  • 28th (Lakewood) Republican Steve O’Ban.
  • 30th (Federal Way) Open seat caused by the retirement of Democrat Tracey Eide.
  • 35th (Shelton) Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat who joined the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.
  • 42nd (Whatcom) GOP Sen. Doug Ericksen.
  • 44th (Mill Creek) Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs.
  • 45th (Redmond) Republican Sen. Andy Hill.
  • 48th (Bellevue) Open seat caused by the retirement of Rodney Tom, a Democrat who joined the GOP coalition

Republicans wrote off the 48th when Tom retired: plus-1 seat for the Ds.

All the Republican incumbents, other than Hill, received over 55 percent in the primary election, as did Democrat-turned-Republican Mark Miloscia in the 30th Legislative District. After all the talk about vulnerable GOP Senators, the incumbent in the most trouble after the primary was Democrat Steve Hobbs, who received only 52 percent. Hill got 54 percent in the primary.

After the primary the Democrats apparently gave up on defeating Baumgartner and Angel, while the Rs moved more money into the race against Hobbs. Republican consultants I have spoken to are confident, based on polling, that O’Ban, Miloscia, Sheldon, Ericksen and Hill are all on track to win. Their one concern is that the Democrat’s get-out-the-vote ground game could alter turnout, and the results.

My best guess: The GOP/Coalition loses the 48th, but gains the 30th, and retains a 26-23 majority. If the Republican tide grows stronger, Hobbs may fall. If the Democrats muster a get-out-thevote effort beyond expectations, Hill may be in danger, but even that would leave the Rs with a 25-24 majority. Divided government is almost certain to continue in Olympia.

State House: No one believes the GOP will pick up a net of seven seats and take the majority, but how much smaller will the Democratic majority be? And the death of Democratic Rep. Roger Freeman throws the race in the 30th district into unchartered territory.

Just as in the Senate, the primary showed that Republican incumbents assumed to be endangered were not; while Democrats are the ones playing defense.

My best guess: Republicans will hold all their current seats, and pick up the following three Democratic seats, leaving the Ds with a 52-46 majority:

  • 17th (Clark County) Republican Lynda Wilson over Freshman Democratic Sen. Monica Stonier.
  • 28th: (Lakewood) Republican Paul Wagemann wins the open seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Tami Green.
  • 35th (Shelton) Republican Dan Griffey ousts Democrat Kathy Haigh.

If the Republican tide grows, Rs could pick up some or all of these Democratic seats:

  • 25th (Puyallup) Democratic Rep. Dawn Morrell vs. Republican Melanie Stambaugh.
  • 26th (Gig Harbor) Democratic Rep. Larry Seaquist vs. Republican Michelle Caldier.
  • 30th (Federal Way) Democratic Rep. Roger Freeman passed away on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer, yet his name remains on the ballot vs. Republican Jack Dovey. If Freeman wins, Democrats will appoint a replacement.

And the GOP is defending two House seats that could flip if the tide turns toward the Democrats:

  • 26th (Gig Harbor) Appointee Jesse Young vs. Democrat Nathan Schlicher.
  • 44th (Mill Creek) Open seat caused by the retirement of Rep. Mike Hope. Republican Mark Harmsworth vs. Democrat Mike Wilson.

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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.