The 2020 Washington Top Two election served as a vetting exercise on Tuesday night, with initial returns identifying the most endangered incumbents in the Washington State Legislature of both major political parties.
The Legislature could end up slightly more Democratic in November after all the votes are eventually counted. If the Democrats were expecting a groundswell, however, what they achieved was at best a frost heave.
The Democrats will have to fight it out with Republicans in familiar “purple” districts. A new feature, however — Democratic vs. Democratic contests in districts outside of the Seattle city limits — will carry over to November..
Appointed Republican State Senator Ron Muzzall trails Democratic challenger Helen Price Johnson in the 10th District. The Democrat is a popular Island County (Whidbey, Camano) Commissioner and League of Women Voters activist.
The D’s stand an excellent chance of flipping the House seat of retiring Republican Representative Norma Smith, with former Island County Commissioner Angie Homola the apparent nominee. She ran against Republican Senator Barbara Bailey four years ago, and was smeared by direct mailings paid for by the statehouse’s business lobbyist. So far, this year, the Democrats are holding their own.
In South Puget Sound, Democratic activists have long forecast the demise of conservative Republican State Senator Steve O’Ban in the 28th District. O’Ban actively opposes reproductive rights and is a tireless, trenchant critic of Sound Transit.
O’Ban was trailing his Democratic challenger T’wina Nobles, the only black woman currently running for the State Senate, by about five hundred votes, an encouraging result for Democrats. Nobles is president of the Tacoma Urban League and twice a member of the University Heights School Board.
O’Ban has recently taken heat for a hit mailing sent out by a political action committee supporting him. The mailing distorted Nobles’ likeness, darkening her face. O’Ban’s response was to claim ignorance.
The coastal 19th District in Southwest Washington continues to vex Democrats. State Representative Brian Blake, a weapons enthusiast, is presently trailing Republican challenger Joel McEntire by more than 1,000 votes.
Blustery Republican State Representative Jim Walsh, a Tim Eyman collaborator, was sailing through the Top Two with more than fifty-six percent of the total vote in initial returns. Walsh has parlayed Seattle bashing into political success.
The Democrats also have incumbents in danger of losing to members of their own party in races carrying over to the November election.
A backbencher’s backbencher, Representative Steve Kirby, was taking just a third of the vote in Pierce County’s 29th Legislative District.
Kirby trails Republican Terry Harder by about nine hundred votes, and is only narrowly ahead of progressive Democratic challenger Sharlett Mena.
The 11th District, of South Seattle and nearby communities, appears to have rendered a verdict: It is time for veteran State Representative Zack Hudgins to go. He trains challenger David Hackney by 1,000 votes. A Harvard Law grad, and mainstay of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Hackney represents the promise of pumping new blood into the House Democratic caucus.
Hackney and Hudgins will be back on the ballot in November.
So will two Eastside Democrats: pro-business Democrat Senator Mark Mullet and union-backed challenger Ingrid Anderson, in the 5th District of eastern King County. The district has totally “flipped” from red to blue in recent elections.
Mullett has a race on his hands. Anderson, a nurse, is running three hundred votes ahead, with late arriving and progressive-leaning votes still to be counted. More than $1.1 million has already been spent on the race, with one of the defining issues Mullet’s opposition to a capital gains tax on the wealthy.
As the night smiled on insurgents, one hearty survivor showed his mettle.
Ex-House Speaker Frank Chopp was taking almost fifty-four percent of the vote in the left-liberal bastion that is the 43rd District.
But a close, interesting Democratic vs. Democratic battle is shaping up for the 36th District House seat being vacated by NPI’s Gael Tarleton, who is running for Secretary of State. Sarah Reyneveld and Liz Berry will face off again in November.
If anyone has a long history of political involvement in the Evergreen State, the electoral map of Washington is revealing.
The Eastside districts which were once the Republicans’ power base – the 41st, 48th and 45th – have long since flipped, the last being the 45th when Democratic Senator Manka Dhingra’s victory in a special 2017 Senate election flipped control of the Legislature’s smaller chamber.
The Republicans’ fall from the exurban 5th Legislative District was completed in 2018, with state House seats changing hands and Democrat Dr. Kim Schrier capturing a U.S. House seat held by Republicans for thirty-six years.
At the same time, however, the rural conservative Democrat has become a species as endangered as the spotted owl. The 35th District (Mason-Thurston) has an all-Republican delegation. The 19th District is swinging right.
The Democrats have fielded an outstanding nominee, ex-State Deptartment officer Danielle Garbe Reser, in the 16th District of Southeast Washington, territory where they used to win. She was taking a little more than thirty-seven percent of the vote on Tuesday, while two Republicans piled up sixty-two percent. They are vying for the seat of retiring State Senator Maureen “Mo” Walsh.
The 42nd District, a Whatcom County district without most of liberal Bellingham in it, has become a major battleground. Ultraconservative State Senator Doug Ericksen, who is a lobbyist for the southeastern Asian nation of Cambodia, held his seat by forty-five votes in 2016. Western Washington University economist Sharon Shewmake defeated a Republican for one of the district’s House seats.
Two years later, Shewmake is trailing Republican opponent Jennifer Sefzik by nearly 1,200 votes. Republican Representative Luanne Van Werven, who barely survived in 2018, is 2,44 votes ahead of Democrat Alicia Rule.
The battlegrounds of 2018 – the 10th, 19th and 42nd Districts – will be fought over again. The 5th, 11th and 36th Districts will feature contests between Democrats. Frank Chopp will likely remain a constant in state politics.