"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Closer to even

Just how much we should make of the results in Washington’s primary election last week – beyond the determination of who will be on the ballot in November – won’t be clear until after the general election voting is done: Only then will we be able to do some conclusive matchups. But if you operate under the assumption that the primary results offer at least a general foreshadowing of what’s to come, we can at least draw some rough conclusions.

We can reasonably conclude that the U.S. Senate race is competitive, though incumbent Democrat Patty Murray has a discernible edge (for now anyway). We can realistically say that there are two competitive U.S. House races, in the 2nd and 3rd districts, with the latter being the tougher call.

And after reviewing results in the 123 state legislative races on the ballot, we can fairly say this: Republicans are not likely to win either chamber at the statehouse (though that could happen), but they are highly likely to pick up enough seats to trim the Democratic edge to only a bare hold.

Let’s unpack this, starting with the Senate.

Of the 49 Senate seats, 31 are held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans – team red would need to gain seven seats to take control. Of the 49 seats, 24 are not up for election this year – 12 each held by Republicans and Democrats, which will mean Republicans will have no structural advantage in 2012. This year, they do: Of the 25 seats up, Democrats now hold 19 and Republicans six. That defense challenge is heavy on the Democratic side; it would be a tough year for maintenance under the best of circumstances.

Of those 25 seats, candidates are unopposed in five of them: Three Democrats and two Republicans. And in two other districts, both candidates headed to November are Republicans. That means in total, Republicans now are guaranteed 16 seats and Democrats 15.

Democrats did a little better among seats competitive between the party. Nine scored well enough (over 50% and substantially ahead of the opposition) to be considered likely winners in November, while six Republicans scored comparably.

There are three other odd-case districts. In 38, incumbent Jean Berkey came in a narrow third against two other candidates, a Republican and a Democrat. But because the two Democrats on the ballot pulled 67.6% of the primary vote overall, the seat has to be considered safe Democratic. In District 32, Maralyn Chase got 47.7% of the vote, while a Republican got 39.9% and another Democrat got 12.4%; again, when you add the party totals, that looks like a Democratic win, though it could enter the gray area.

And then there’s District 44, where Democratic incumbent Steve Hobbs and his main Republican challenger, Dave Schmidt, nearly tied (Hobbs very slightly edged Schmidt), in a race also involving two other candidates. This one has to be called a true tossup.

Add these together, and the Washington Senate overall is beginning to look like 38 Democrats, 34 Republicans, and one too close to call – based on primary results. So you could say the odds favor continued Democratic control, but with a narrow margin. And the possibility of Republican control if their candidates run the table.

The House has a similar overall look.

The margin in the House (where all seats are up) now is 61 Democrats, 37 Republicans; team red needs a dozen-seat pickup to tie. The parties are unopposed (this combines one-candidate elections with one party only on the ballot line) for 24 seats – 18 Republicans and six Democrats, so start with those. (Democrats gave away a hell of an advantage by failing to significantly challenge more Republicans, even in districts where their odds weren’t good.) Then look at the seats where one candidate had a strong primary edge of at least 52% of the vote: Here Democrats did better, leading in 31 seats to the Republicans’ 15. Then add in the districts where total party vote (even if not for one candidate specifically) hit the mid-50s or higher: six for the Democrats, four for the Republicans.

That brings us to 41 Democratic seats, and 37 Republican – a close margin. You’ll notice that Republicans seem solid in the same number of seats they have now: Democrats are having to play serious defence on many of the 20 remaining seats.

A lot of these are suburban seats Democrats have won from long-time Republican control in the last few election cycles. Both House seats look seriously contestable in districts 1, 17, 28, 35 and 42, along with one of the seats in 6 (Spokane area), 18, 30, 32, 44, 45 and 47. Nearly all are now held by Democrats.

A sweep of those could give Republicans House control. That doesn’t seem too likely, at least yet.

But Washington’s legislature, even without shift of formal control, is likely to look a good deal different next year then it does now.

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