Could the Evergreen State Go Red?

Washington state has a diverse political history and a tradition of Northwestern independence.

Washington state has a diverse political history and a tradition of Northwestern independence. Residents of Washington consider themselves more Western than the? West Coast. But it has been many years since the state supported Republican candidates like it seems to be doing in 2010. The coming “wave” has even Washington state is seeing red.

US Senate

In the U.S. Senate race, events are starting to go two-time gubernatorial challenger Dino Rossi’s way. In the latest Rasmussen poll (August 31st, 2010) Rossi led Sen. Patty Murray 48 to 46 percent. With “leaners,” Rossi’s lead increases to 50 percent over Murray’s 46 percent. Observers of Washington state politics see a barrage of negative advertising from Murray’s camp and the DSCC just over the horizon. Rossi will have to navigate this carefully, but he is quickly closing in on favorite status. RCP has Rossi ahead in their poling average.

US House

The races for U.S. Congressional delegation from Washington are surprisingly fluid, but most Democratic incumbents appear safe this cycle. Rep. Jay Inslee from Washington’s 1st District appears to be occupying a safe Democratic seat. The same can be said of the 6th District’s Rep. Norman Dicks who has represented Tacoma and the Olympic Peninsula since 1977 and Rep. Jim McDermott who is running unopposed and has occupied the seat representing Seattle since 1989. Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington’s 9th Congressional district faces a tougher race against his Republican challenger Dick Muri, (having received just 51 percent of the open primary vote) but he is favored to retain the seat this year.

This week, a surprising SurveyUSA poll (August 31st to September 2nd, 2010) showed GOP challenger John Koster beating incumbent Democrat Rep. Rick Larsen 50 to 46 percent in Washington’s 2nd district. This race was not on many observers’ radars prior to this poll’s release. Koster ran against Larsen in 2000 and lost by the same margin, 50 to 46. Republican Jamie Herrera in Washington’s open 3rd Congressional District has enjoyed double digit leads in two SurveyUSA polls from August 25th, 2010 and September 2nd, 2010. Rep. Doc Hastings from Washington’s 4th district, Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers form Washington’s 5th District and Dave Reichert from Washington’s 8th District are not facing serious challenges from their Democratic opponents this year.

If those predictions hold, then Washington state’s U.S. Congressional Delegation would be made up of 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats, the first Republican majority from Washington since 1999. 

Proposition 1098

Washington Sate will be a legislative battleground for this year’s most contentious issue: taxes. Led by Bill Gates Sr. and the Service Employees International Union, a ballot initiative to approve or deny the creation of the state’s first income tax will be put before voters. Washington is the only West Coast state without an income tax, but they offset the burden by imposing a high sales tax – as high as 10 percent in the Seattle area. Make no mistake, Washingtonians do not feel under taxed.

A SurveyUSA poll (August 31st, 2010) showed that 41 percent are certain to vote “yes” while 33 are certain “no” votes. The remaining 24 percent of undecided voters in any average year would break about evenly and the measure would pass. However, with anti-tax fervor motivating Tea Partiers and an expectedly large Republican turnout due to a 25-point enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, undecided voters will probably break towards “no” on Prop. 1098. There are other tax initiatives on the ballot in November, like repealing a sales tax on candy and soda and reinstating a two-thirds majority vote requirement to raise taxes in the legislature. Each initiative is polling around the same level as 1098 and all will be bellwether measurements, but the vote on 1098 has received the most attention nationally and it will serve as yet another motivating factor to get Washington state Republicans out on November 2nd.

Governor Approval

Washington state’s Governor, Christine Gregoire, has a lackluster approval rating as she enters the final years of her second term. Gregoire won her first term in 2004 against Rossi by just 129 votes out of the 2.75 million votes cast. She was reelected in 2008 with almost 54 percent, but she now languishes in a 46/54 approval rating according to the latest Rasmussen poll (August 31st, 2010). That is a definite improvement from the threateningly upside down 35/62 approval rating she received from a SurveyUSA poll on April 11th, 2010.

State Legislature

Democrats currently have a significant 62 to 36 majority in the Washington state House. A piece published Wednesday by Chris Vance in provides an interesting analysis of these local races. Vance predicts that 41 seats are likely Republican and 44 are likely Democratic with 13 tossups. The Republicans would only need to win 9 of those seats to end up with a 50 to 48 majority in the House.

In the state Senate, a similar picture emerges. Today there are 31 Democratic state Senators and 18 Republicans. Vance sees two seats in the 6th and 47th legislative districts, currently held by state Sen. Chris Marr of Spokane and Claudia Kauffman of Kent respectively, already leaning towards Republicans. He also predicts that five currently Democratic seats in the suburbs of Puget Sound are in the tossup category, the Republicans are not facing a serious challenge to any of the seats they currently hold. The GOP would have to win them all, but if they did they would hold a 25 to 24 seat majority over the Democrats in the state Senate.

Wave in the Pacific Northwest

While the prospects for the Evergreen State going completely Red on the local level are slim, they are not impossible. The U.S. Senate and House races could not only plausibly go Republican; it is becoming likely. Washington state is not a Democratic stronghold but it has been courting that impression for the last ten years. 2010 could reverse that trend, but remains to be seen if the wave that sweeps this year’s Republicans into office will keep them there long enough to make a lasting impact on the state’s political makeup.


Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at

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