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Top 10 WA Xgr: Premier Races

Washington has more legislative seats up for grabs than either Oregon or Idaho, yet the field generally feels considerably less competitive than Oregon (which has the fewest seats up) and no more than Idaho (where the geographic range in play is barely smaller). With all of the 98-member House and half of the 49-member Senate up, you’d think there’d be more to play with. But 38 unopposed incumbents puts a drag on things.

The Moderate Washingtonian blog, which has been tracking progress on these races, is currently predicting a gain of four Senate seats for the Democrats (to 29-20) and one in the House (to 57-42). That site says it will be revising its spreadsheet soon. Presently, we’d look in the neighborhood of about a Democratic gain of two or three in the Senate, and about two in the House. Chances of a Republican takeover of either chamber seem slim.

With that in mind, here are 10 races we’ll be watching as markers for what’s going on and what lies ahead. These races (as in Oregon and Idaho) are listed for a mix of their probable closeness, their intensity, and their larger significance. Our Oregon list and our Idaho list appeared in September; we waited for Washington until after the September primary election, and the general election races had a chance to settle a bit. The races are listed here by office and district number, not by priority. (Colored dots indicate the party now holding the seat.)

red glass District 6 Senate, incumbent Brad Benson, R-Spokane; challenger Chris Marr, D-Spokane. This list isn’t in priority order, but this contest would be as good a pole choice as any if it were. The Spokane area is represented mainly by two districts, two senators, one of which in recent years has been fairly securely Democratic (held by Majority Leader Lisa Brown), the other marginally Republican. That Senate seat has been held, into this last term, by Jim West, a legislative veteran and Senate Republican leader, who left to win election as mayor of Spokane. And there ended his political career amid recall and a sex scandal echoed somewhat by the recent congressional scandal of Floridian Mark Foley. Benson, who had served in the House before hisappointment to replace West, had nothing personally to do with any of that. But as West’s successor, and a Republican at a time when the label has been tainted, he has automatic problems. And his Democratic opponent, Marr, has campaigned hard and at last report had substantially outraised Benson – in all, bad indicators for the incumbent. Prevailing view is that Marr will take this seat Democratic, making it only the second such in recent years for Democrats, and greatly strengthening the Democratic presence in Spokane. Did we say Spokane as a clear Democratic base city? A Marr win would be a significant step in that direction.

red glass District 26 Senate, incumbent Bob Oke, Republican. Republican Jim Hines, R-Gig Harbor; Democrat Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. Four years ago, it was a long stretch after election day before anyone knew for sure if Bob Oke had won re-election to the Senate, so close was that race – the closest Senate race in Washington. This year (mainly evidently for health reasons) Oke is retiring from the Senate, and from this fairly marginal district which takes in many of the Puget Sound-bordering areas in Pierce and Kitsap counties. Oke has been a factor in keeping the district marginal, since both House members here are Democrats. But one of them, Derek Kilmer, now seems favored to take the Senate seat over Republican Jim Hines (whose primary opponent, Lois McMahan, might have been stronger in the general), who has had Oke’s early support. Both have pluses out of norm for their parties: Kilmer has been highly active on economic development and Hines not only on the subject of sex predators but also early childhood and special needs legislation. Two years ago, Kilmer raised so much money for his maiden House race that he ranks second among all legislative candidates in the state; will he match the pace this time? A fascinating race.

red glass District 47 Senate, incumbent Stephen Johnson. Republican Mike Riley, R-Black Diamond; Democrat Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent. Two of the four Senate races on this list, and several of the House races too, are bunched in a narrow geographic area: The east side of King County. And there’s good reason, since that’s the most competitive political ground in Washington today. Odds are good that if the well-regarded Stephen Johnson, who ran this year for the Supreme Court (and is still running) had sought re-election instead, he would have won – but so transitional is this area that’s it’s not necessarily a slam dunk. As it is, this seat is the locus of a serious contest between two relative political newcomers, one a retired air traffic controller (Riley), the other a small business owner and education and tribal activist (Kauffman). Slim odds to Kauffman, maybe; but this is not an easily predictable.

red glass District 48 Senate, incumbent Luke Esser, R-Bellevue; challenger Rodney Tom, D-Medina. Ah, welcome to what may be November’s top legislative smashup in Washington state. Both candidates are important figures in Washington politics. Esser is a key senator, one of the group (with former Senator Dino Rossi) who were so influential in the Washington Senate; a candidate for the U.S. House in 2004, he could easily be a plausible figure for major office again – if he survives this contest. In the other corner: Tom was, until earlier this year, a fellow Republican, and his run against Esser as a newly-minted Democrat has to come as a shock (maybe to both of them). As Republicans have invested in Esser, so Democrats have now invested in Tom. You can feel the emotion in this one; it could make a good TV movie. Underneath their feet, the district is on awfully skay ground: firmly Republican not long ago, it is now closely split, and you could argue a small Democratic advantage is arising (courtesy of the popular and skilled otherDemocratic House member here, Ross Hunter). A Tom win (which the Moderate Washingtonian predicts) could have a seismic effect on the East Side. Keep tuned to this one on election night, and don’t forget the popcorn.

red glass District 23 House, incumbent Beverly Woods, R-Kingston; challenger Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island. Fast-growing Kitsap County seems a politically marginal area, and by most measures it is. Democrats have been making steady gains, however, and this race could be a measure of that advance – or a high water mark. Rolfes, a former Bainbridge council member, has campaigned hard and out-fundraised incumbent Woods and has help from the other House member here, Democrat Sherry Appleton. (Both have posted forests of campaign signs.) Woods has a good deal of native strength on the ground; she is not an easy target. But this is a serious race.

red glass District 28 House, incumbent Republican Gigi Talcott. Republican Don Anderson, R-Lakewood; challenger Troy Kelley, D-Tacoma. Another case of an open Republican seat and a fierce contest over it. Gigi Talcott is departing, and Republican Anderson, who only barely (53.8%) won his primary contest, has his hands full with Democrat Kelley. Kelley is an army reservist, a teacher and owner of a small business – a nice combination to talk about. This is another long-running Republican seat where the other House member is a Democrat, giving some strength to the challenge.

red glass District 31 House, incumbent Jan Shabro, R-Sumner; challenger Christopher Hurst, D-Black Diamond. Okay, this one probably isn’t a razor-edge race. Shabro, with a long record in public office and no apparent problems, doesn’t seem to be at imminent risk. But Hurst’s role as a Democratic cop, and his political background – see the Peter Callaghan column on this – renders the whole contexct of this race irresistible to a political junkie. We’ll be interested just to see how it plays out.

red glass District 41 House, incumbent Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island; challenger Dale Murphy, D-Coeur d’Alene. If the King County East Side is transitioning to the Democrats, Fred Jarrett should still be one of the Republicans this new region might happily support. His list of community pushups is unusually long, and includes time on the Mercer Island City Council and two terms as mayor, chair of the Metro Transit Committee and the Joint Regional Planning Committee and great deal more. he has a solid history of re-election in recent years, and we’d suppose he will be re-elected this year. Still … keep watch.

blue glass District 45 House, incumbent Larry Springer, D-Kirkland; challenger Tim Lee, R-Redmond. Are there no serious Republican challenges to Democrats? Seems as if there are remarkably few this year, but consider this one. Lee is the co-founder of Pogo Linux, a high-tech firm; by contrast, Springer runs a small wine shop. (You can imagine the differing world views involved.) This contest appears to be based heavily around the nuts and bolts of Springer’s freshman term, and it has indicators being a hard-charging contest.

blue glass District 48 House, incumbent Rodney Tom. Democrat Deborah Eddy, D-Kirkland; Republican Bret Olson, R-Kirkland. In a wide, this is the flip side of the Esser-Tom Senate race in this same district, since this is the seat Tom is vacating to run for the Senate. So, ironically, though it technically is a Democratic seat, a Republican – the mdoerate Tom – won it in 2004, and previously. So who will now? Consider this race as one of interlocking parts, in which the Senate race as well that of Democratic Representative Ross Hunter are also components. In 2004, this district was 2-1 Republican; in 2006, it could go 3-0 Democratic. Or 2-1 Republican … Both candidates are prepared. Eddy is a former mayor of Kirkland, and Olson worked for former U.S. Representative Jennifer Dunn (still a name to reckon with here).

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