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.)
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. (more…)