You might not know it from reading mass media coverage of Washington’s Top Two election, but the biggest story of tonight is that Democrats appear poised to win both houses of the Legislature this autumn, expanding their House majority and recapturing the Senate majority with a compelling slate of candidates.
Some background: At present, Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities in the Washington State House. They have fifty seats (the minimum needed for a working majority); the Republicans have forty-eight. In the Senate, meanwhile, Democrats are currently in the minority, with twenty-three seats, and need to take at least two seats away from the Republicans get to a working majority.
But if tonight’s initial results are any indication, the party is poised to accomplish both objectives in the coming months. Let’s take a look at the matchups in the swing districts, where legislative majorities are won and lost.
5th District, King County
Senate: One of this year’s marquee contests for Senate will take place in the 5th, pitting incumbent Democrat Mark Mullet against Republican Chad Magendanz. Both have served the district in the Legislature for years on opposite sides of the dome. Given that Magendanz has faced the voters more recently, and given that the 5th has a long history of supporting Republicans, you might think Magendanz would have an advantage, especially in a low-turnout election like this one. But remarkably, Mullet is ahead of Magendanz, which bodes well for Democrats.
- Democratic incumbent Mark Mullet: 50.15%
- Republican challenger Chad Magendanz: 49.85%
House, Position 2: The seat Magendanz vacated to challenge Mullet is up for grabs, and Democrats will be looking to take it with Darcy Burner, who beat out Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson for second place. Together, Burner and Larson are winning around 53% of the vote, keeping Republican Paul Graves under fifty percent. If Burner can fire up the base and bring enough independent/biconceptual voters along to support her candidacy, she could become the first Democratic candidate in state history to win a House seat in the 5th this November.
- Democratic open seat contender Darcy Burner: 36.14%
- Democratic open seat contender Matt Larson (eliminated): 16.69%
- Republican open seat contender Paul Graves: 47.17%
House, Position 1: The Democratic Party’s candidate against Jay Rodne, Jason Ritchie, has a steeper hill to climb this autumn. He’s got around 44% of the vote in early returns against Rodne. There is no third candidate to be eliminated in this election, so this is essentially a straw poll preview of November. Ritchie is the first Democratic challenger Rodne has had to get within ten points of him.
- Republican incumbent Jay Rodne: 55.79%
- Democratic challenger Jason Ritchie: 44.21%
41st District, King County
Senate: It took a long time for Democrats to find a worthy challenger to Steve Litzow, a smooth-talking Republican narrowly elected in 2010. But in experienced business executive Lisa Wellman, they seem to have found the perfect challenger. In the span of a few weeks, Wellman has put together a strong campaign and rallied Democrats across the district. She’s running neck and neck with Litzow.
- Republican incumbent Steve Litzow: 48.72%
- Democratic challenger Lisa Wellman: 47.69%
- Libertarian challenger Bryan Simonson (eliminated): 3.59%
Democrats already control both House seats in the 41st and ought not to have any trouble reelecting Judy Clibborn and Tana Senn.
30th District, King County (with a tiny slice of Pierce County)
House, Position 1: Democrats recruited a stellar candidate to take on incumbent Republican Linda Kochmar this year: Assistant Attorney General Mike Pellicciotti. Pellicciotti is showing everyone tonight why he’s a formidable candidate. In a straw poll matchup against Kochmar, with no third candidate on the ballot to be eliminated, Pellicciotti is winning.
- Republican incumbent Linda Kochmar: 48.23%
- Democratic challenger Mike Pellicciotti: 51.77%
House Position 2: Pellicciotti’s fellow challenger Kristine Reeves is also ahead of the Republican incumbent she’s running against — Teri Hickel. Hickel was elected to the House just last year, defeating Carol Gregory, who was appointed to fill a vacancy left by the death of Roger Freeman. Republicans were giddy a year ago when Hickel knocked out Gregory, but they can’t be feeling giddy about this result.
- Republican incumbent Teri Hickel: 49.77%
- Democratic challenger Kristine Reeves: 50.23%
The 30th is a Democratic district that Republicans have made inroads in due to complacent campaigning by Democrats. If these seats flip, as they appear likely to, House Democrats are pretty much assured of having a majority for 2017–2018.
17th District, Clark County
Senate: Democrats haven’t forgotten losing to Tim Eyman cohort Don Benton (Donald Trump’s biggest in-state booster) four years ago, by the narrowest of margins. Democrats forced Benton into retirement when they recruited Tim Probst to seek a rematch with Benton for Senate. Benton’s seatmate Lynda Wilson, who serves in the state House, filed to take his place, but early returns show Probst ahead of Wilson, which bodes very well for November.
- Democratic open seat contender Tim Probst: 50.67%
- Republican open seat contender Lynda Wilson: 49.33%
28th District, Pierce County
Senate: Democrats believe they have a shot at knocking out Republican incumbent Steve O’Ban with Marisa Peloquin, a former 82nd Airborne Company Commander. Peloquin is one of the party’s top recruits of the cycle, and has inspired and impressed Democratic activists by responding aggressively to Republican attacks against her. She’s not that far away from O’Ban in early results.
- Republican incumbent Steve O’Ban: 53.91%
- Democratic challenger Marisa Peloquin: 46.09%
House, Position 1: Two Democrats filed to challenge Republican incumbent Dick Muri: Mari Leavitt and Anne Setsuko Giroux. Leavitt, as expected, will go on to November against Muri. Together with Giroux, she’s currently holding Muri to 53% in the Top Two. This is a contest Democrats may want to invest in to broaden the playing field, to borrow a sports metaphor.
- Republican incumbent Dick Muri: 53.25%
- Democratic challenger Mari Leavitt: 38.92%
- Democratic challenger: 7.84%
House, Position 2: Democrats’ top defend this cycle is arguably Chris Kilduff. Kilduff was able to win two years ago in a tough cycle for Democrats, so the party feels good about her reelection prospects. And tonight, Kilduff is showing she’s in good shape, with an outright majority of the vote against three opponents.
- Democratic incumbent Chris Kilduff: 50.81%
- Republican challenger Paul Wagemann: 27.46%
- Republican challenger Michael Winkler: 18.61%
- Libertarian challenger Brandon Lyons: 3.12%
26th District, Pierce and Kitsap County
House, Position 1: One of the Democratic Party’s biggest recruiting coups of the cycle came late, when the party persuaded Larry Seaquist to abandon his campaign for OSPI and instead run to return to the state House of Representatives. This decision looks like it could pay off handsomely, for Seaquist is running almost even with Republican incumbent Jesse Young, who’s seriously under water.
- Republican incumbent Jesse Young: 37.74%
- Democratic challenger Larry Seaquist: 36.95%
- Democratic challenger Alec Matias: 13.64%
- Republican challenger Bill Scheidler: 11.67%
House, Position 2: Michelle Caldier, who defeated Seaquist in the midterms, is seeking reelection, and Democrats are taking her on with Randy Spitzer. Caldier’s initial numbers are reasonably strong and she’ll be tough to defeat, but Spitzer is a decent candidate who’s still got a shot, especially if he works hard to close the gap.
- Republican incumbent Michelle Caldier: 56.26%
- Democratic challenger Randy Spitzer: 43.74%
Democrats are expecting to hold House and Senate seats in the 1st, 19th, 24th, and 44th Districts despite retirements there.
In the 1st, for Senate, Guy Palumbo and Luis Moscoso are battling for second place, splitting the Democratic vote (whoever emerges victorious will be favored to win in November). For House, Position 1, Democrat Shelley Kloba has a comfortable lead over everyone else for second place. She’ll also be favored to win in November.
In the 19th, incumbent Democrat JD Rossetti is being hotly trailed by Democratic challenger Teresa Purcell for House, Position 1. Whoever gets second place will square off against Republican Jim Walsh.
There’s less drama in the 24th, the district that spans most of the Olympic Peninsula, where Steve Tharinger is crushing his Republican opponent for Senate, seeking to take over for Jim Hargrove. Democrat Mike Chapman ought to be able to hold on to Tharinger’s House seat, keeping the district 100% Democratic.
The Senate contest in the 10th District (Island County/North Sound) is worth keeping an eye on. Democrats Angie Homola and Nick Petrish are collectively holding incumbent Republican Barbara Bailey to just 51.44%. Homola, a former Island County Commissioner, will be moving on against Bailey. Can Democrats make this contest competitive? We’ll soon find out.
Meanwhile, in the 45th, incumbent Democrat Roger Goodman has 62% of the vote in early returns. Republicans thought they had a strong challenger for him in Sammamish City Councilmember Ramiro Valderrama, but Valderrama is faring even worse than Goodman’s past opponents. Republicans can forget about defeating Goodman — he’s in strong position for reelection.
To recap: Democrats showed tonight they’re poised to pick up seats in both the House and Senate while defending what they have.
If Democrats can defend Mark Mullet and get Lisa Wellman and Tim Probst elected, they should have a bare majority in the Senate going into 2017. The electorate in the coming general election will be larger and more progressive than the electorate in this Top Two election, which is bad news for Republicans. If Democrats campaign effectively, they ought to be able to gain ground across the board.
Ten years ago, during the 2006, Democrats had a very good year, clobbering Republicans in legislative races in swing district after swing district. They assembled supermajorities in both houses. It’s unlikely Democrats can repeat that feat this year, but solid gains that lead to control of both houses are very possible.
2006 was a banner cycle, but the party has been losing legislative seats or treading water every year since. The Senate majority disappeared nearly four years ago when Democrats In Name Only Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon conspired with Republicans to seize power and take over the Senate. The House majority, meanwhile, was whittled down to one seat and is barely intact.
Democrats see 2016 as the year to arrest and reverse this long, painful trend of legislative losses. Tonight’s results show that the party is within striking distance of winning working majorities on both sides of the dome this fall. Much work will be required for the party to be successful, but the stage has been set for victory.