Elections

Republicans’ dreams of flipping Washington State Legislature vanish in a puff of vapor

For months now Repub­li­can par­ty offi­cials and oper­a­tives have been telling any­one will­ing to lis­ten to them that 2022 was primed to be their year.

Seek­ing to project an aura of invin­ci­bil­i­ty, they have sug­gest­ed and even declared that noth­ing — absolute­ly noth­ing — would stop them from mow­ing down front­line Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors and mem­bers of Congress.

Con­sid­er this May 8th state­ment from for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can Chair Rob Glea­son, glee­ful­ly refer­ring to Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­ers, activists, and voters:

“Their peo­ple are depressed… Nothing’s going to be able to save them this year.”

Or, clos­er to home, this mes­sage from Caleb Heim­lich on March 29th:

“2022 is shap­ing up to be a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty for Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton State – not only can we help nation­al Repub­li­cans retake majori­ties in Con­gress, but we can also retake majori­ties in Olympia so we can enact good Repub­li­can poli­cies that will get our com­mu­ni­ties and our State back on the right track!”

A few weeks lat­er, in April, Heim­lich elab­o­rat­ed in anoth­er email as to what that would entail: “We need to win four seats in the State Sen­ate and every seats in the State House. We are fight­ing every day to accom­plish exact­ly that.”

Fast for­ward to this month. On Elec­tion Day, Heim­lich appeared on Live from Seat­tle with Tim Gay­dos, and told Tim that after Fri­day of Elec­tion Week, we’d have a pret­ty good idea of Repub­li­cans’ prospects in this crit­i­cal midterm election.

Here we are on August 6th, with less than a hun­dred days to go until Novem­ber 8th, and over 1.7 mil­lion votes tab­u­lat­ed in the pre­lim­i­nary round of Wash­ing­ton’s two-part gen­er­al elec­tion, for turnout of about 37%. Four counts are now fin­ished, and there will be sev­en more before cer­ti­fi­ca­tion occurs on August 16th.

NPI’s par­ty per­for­mance track­er shows that out of nine­ty-sev­en state House races, Democ­rats are col­lec­tive­ly ahead in fifty-sev­en, while Repub­li­cans are ahead in forty-one. And in state Sen­ate races, Democ­rats are ahead in sev­en­teen, while Repub­li­cans lead in eight. (Only half of the State Sen­ate is up this year.)

Voters in a majority of both House and Senate contests currently prefer Democratic candidates

State House of Representatives

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has the major­i­ty of votes in 57 House contests:

The Repub­li­can Par­ty has the major­i­ty of votes in 41 House contests:


State Senate

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has the major­i­ty of votes in 17 Sen­ate contests:

The Repub­li­can Par­ty has the major­i­ty of votes in 8 Sen­ate contests:


If those dynam­ics were to hold through the gen­er­al elec­tion, Repub­li­cans would end up with a net gain of zero seats in both cham­bers of the Legislature.

That’s right: Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

They need to flip a total of thir­teen seats for con­trol of both cham­bers. At this junc­ture, they look ill posi­tioned to flip so much as one net seat.

That would mean that, come Jan­u­ary 2023, Demo­c­ra­t­ic majori­ties would be just as big as they are today, despite the retire­ments of a num­ber of Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers from bat­tle­ground dis­tricts, like Pat Sul­li­van and Mona Das in the 47th, which Repub­li­cans loud­ly trum­pet­ed back in the spring.

The 47th is one of those cru­cial­ly impor­tant dis­tricts where Repub­li­cans fig­ured they would roar back in 2022. They had what they con­sid­ered to be strong can­di­dates and ide­al cir­cum­stances for a set of vic­to­ries this cycle.

But instead, it looks like Democ­rats will run the tables again, like in 2018.

In the Sen­ate race, a major­i­ty of votes are going to Democ­rats Clau­dia Kauff­man and Satwinder Kaur, who are sep­a­rat­ed by the tini­est of mar­gins: a few dozen votes. Repub­li­can Bill Boyce (a Kent City Coun­cilmem­ber, like Kaur) is well under the fifty per­cent thresh­old, with just 45.68%.

State Senate, 47th Legislative District

As of 08/06/2022 4:00 PM

Bill Boyce

Repub­li­can | 13,409 votes

45.68%
Clau­dia Kauffman

Demo­c­ra­t­ic | 7,982 votes

27.19%
Satwinder Kaur

Demo­c­ra­t­ic | 7,918 votes

26.97%

In the con­test for the open House seat, the Repub­li­cans’ three can­di­dates are split­ting the vote so effec­tive­ly that they have can­celled each oth­er out. There will be no Repub­li­can can­di­date — again, no Repub­li­can can­di­date — on the bal­lot for this office in the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion. Vot­ers will see two Democ­rats instead: Chris Stearns and Shukri Olow. That means Democ­rats are basi­cal­ly assured of get­ting to keep the seat that Pat Sul­li­van is vacating.

State House, Position 2, 47th Legislative District

As of 08/06/2022 4:00 PM

Chris Stearns

Demo­c­ra­t­ic | 9,802 votes

33.49%
Shukri Olow

Demo­c­ra­t­ic | 5,713 votes

19.52%
Bar­ry Knowles

Repub­li­can | 5,116 votes

17.48%
Ted Cooke

Repub­li­can | 4,433 votes

15.14%
Car­men Goers

Repub­li­can | 4,182 votes

14.29%

In the oth­er State House race, incum­bent Debra Enten­man is cruis­ing along with 55.3% of the vote against two Repub­li­can oppo­nents: Kyle Lye­byedyev and Jessie L Ram­sey. Those def­i­nite­ly aren’t the num­bers of a vul­ner­a­ble Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent that Repub­li­cans were sali­vat­ing in antic­i­pa­tion of seeing.

State House, Position 1, 47th Legislative District

As of 08/06/2022 4:00 PM

Debra Jean Entenman

Demo­c­ra­t­ic | 16,088 votes

55.3%
Kyle Lye­byedyev

Repub­li­can | 9,022 votes

31.01%
Jessie L Ramsey

Repub­li­can | 3,936 votes

13.53%

It’s the same sto­ry in the 30th… and the 44th… and the 26th… and the 24th… and oth­er dis­tricts. Repub­li­can chal­lengers to Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bents just aren’t putting up the strong show­ing that Repub­li­can oper­a­tives and their fun­ders had expect­ed. They were amply backed with big mon­ey, but it was for naught.

The Wash­ing­ton Observer’s Paul Queary has, like us, been track­ing the cam­paign cash and writ­ing reg­u­lar­ly about it. In his last newslet­ter, ana­lyz­ing elec­tion results, he char­ac­ter­ized the expen­sive cam­paigns to flip the Leg­is­la­ture as duds.

Pre­vi­ous­ly, on July 13th, he pub­lished a post look­ing in detail at the gush­er of mon­ey being spent against Democ­rats by the Repub­li­cans and the pow­er­ful inter­ests fund­ing them, includ­ing the oil indus­try and the bank­ing industry.

“Thus far, $387K has been spent on neg­a­tive cam­paign mes­sag­ing tar­get­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bents in five dis­tricts and Demo­c­ra­t­ic hope­fuls in two oth­ers. Some­what unusu­al­ly, WA Wins [the name of the Repub­li­cans’ leg­isla­tive­ly focused polit­i­cal com­mit­tee] is spend­ing ahead of the pri­ma­ry even though near­ly all the Democ­rats in ques­tion are sure to advance to Novem­ber,” Queary wrote. “The idea is to show those Democ­rats are vul­ner­a­ble and dri­ve enthu­si­asm and turnout among GOP vot­ers and big donors on the right going into November.”

Those cook­ie cut­ter attack mail­ers, how­ev­er, did­n’t pro­duce results.

Now Repub­li­cans are in a quandary. There’s one bat­tle­ground leg­isla­tive dis­trict where the num­bers are in their favor: the redrawn 42nd, up in What­com Coun­ty. Oth­er than that, how­ev­er, the elec­tion has not yield­ed a list of obvi­ous tar­gets for Repub­li­cans. Remem­ber, to get bare majori­ties in both cham­bers for next ses­sion, they’d need to flip nine House seats and four Sen­ate seats. And as we can see, there are not thir­teen Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bents head­ed for a tough fall right now.

These are weird, chaot­ic times. We don’t know the future and any­thing is pos­si­ble. It’s impor­tant to say that. But with respect to what’s prob­a­ble, this elec­tion has shown us that Repub­li­cans’ talk of flip­ping the Leg­is­la­ture has been based on pipe dreams. They have fan­ta­sized about dis­lodg­ing Democ­rats for a long time, but the vot­ers are not mak­ing their fond­est wish­es come true.

Right wing activists like Bri­an Hey­wood, cheered on by the likes of Tim Eyman, are present­ly cir­cu­lat­ing (with vol­un­teers!) eleven dif­fer­ent ini­tia­tive peti­tions as part of a scheme called “Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton” that are intend­ed to equip a 2023 Repub­li­can Leg­is­la­ture with bad ideas it can adopt into law that would not be sub­ject to a guber­na­to­r­i­al veto from Demo­c­ra­t­ic Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee.

“Pre­sum­ing we have a friend­ly leg­is­la­ture, which prob­a­bly means a Repub­li­can major­i­ty, even if only by one vote, then it is pre­sum­ably like­ly that both hous­es would vote to approve some or all of these ini­tia­tives,” Hey­wood’s FAQ says.

This kind of think­ing was echoed by Eyman in an email he sent on May 14th, in which he excit­ed­ly pro­mot­ed an anti-tax ini­tia­tive: “If we flip the house and sen­ate and get the Repub­li­cans a major­i­ty in both cham­bers, they can pass the ini­tia­tive into law and Inslee can’t veto it!” (Empha­sis is Eyman’s).

Bar­ring a polit­i­cal earth­quake, those dreams seem des­tined to remain a fan­ta­sy. By embrac­ing extrem­ism, cor­rup­tion, and vin­dic­tive­ness at every turn for years, Repub­li­cans have destroyed their brand — espe­cial­ly in the sub­urbs — and paved the way for Wash­ing­ton’s trans­for­ma­tion into a state that is even more reli­ably Demo­c­ra­t­ic, no mat­ter what the polit­i­cal cli­mate else­where might be.

Andrew Villeneuve

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