The red wave didn’t materialize nationally, and so far it has failed to show up in Washington, too.
Republicans won’t take over the Legislature and will have, at most, as many statewide executive-branch officials and members of Congress as they had before Tuesday’s election. It was even possible, though becoming less likely Wednesday, that the GOP would be left without a single statewide office for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Republicans are still holding out hope of taking the biggest prize of all: the Governor’s Mansion. But it would require a last-minute surge for their standard bearer, Rob McKenna, who on Wednesday closed only a fraction of the gap that separated him from Jay Inslee.
Washington is “if anything, becoming more solidly Democratic,” said Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University political science professor.
Some of that is helped this year by improving national public opinion on the economy, Donovan said, the same force that helped give President Barack Obama a second term. But the Democratic tilt also showed up in 2010, a terrible year for Democrats nationally that nonetheless saw Washington Sen. Patty Murray comfortably re-elected.
“It’s going to be a harder nut for Republicans to crack statewide,” Donovan said. That seems true even for McKenna, who played up his centrist credentials. “Maybe he was going into that sort of blue tide that was helping candidates here.”
Elsewhere on the statewide ballot, the results were even better for Democrats. Voters elected U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell to a third term in a blowout, gave Lt. Gov. Brad Owen a fifth term and changed parties in the attorney general’s office, replacing McKenna with King County Councilman Bob Ferguson. Tacoma Democratic Rep. Troy Kelley had a substantial lead over James Watkins for state auditor.
A Republican led for just one of the eight statewide, partisan executive positions, and that race for secretary of state was the closest of the eight. Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman led former state Sen. Kathleen Drew by less than 25,000 votes out of more than 2 million counted so far.
Wyman, who runs Thurston elections, said late Tuesday night that “based on historic trends ... late votes tend to be more conservative.”
A number of Democrats actually improved in late voting in 2010, including Murray, but this year Wyman did widen her lead slightly after a second day of counting.
Democrats are assured of keeping the state House and Senate.
“By electing a Democratic majority in the Senate, voters have spoken,” departing Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said in a statement. “The people of Washington share our values, and they want our caucus to stay on course – prioritizing education, creating jobs for the middle class, and protecting folks like working mothers, seniors and the disabled.”
Senate Republicans were trying to hang on to enough seats to renew a coalition with conservative Democrats that they formed last year, giving them control on budget issues. To achieve that, they would likely need Vancouver Sen. Don Benton to survive a challenge from Rep. Tim Probst. Benton was fighting for his political life Wednesday and managed to narrow his challenger’s lead to 102 votes.
Senate Republicans lost a seat to Issaquah’s Mark Mullet but claimed a new one with Puyallup Rep. Bruce Dammeier, and seemed headed toward defeating powerful Transportation Committee chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island, who was trailing Rep. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor.
Gig Harbor Sen. Derek Kilmer will give up his seat after his election to Congress, but voters won’t choose a replacement for a year. In the meantime, the Pierce County Council and Kitsap County Board of Commissioners will confer to try to appoint a new senator, but they must choose a Democrat from a three-person list submitted by local party activists.
Republicans have prospects for gaining one or two seats in the state House, cutting into Democrats’ eight-vote majority. Steve O’Ban of Tacoma and Drew MacEwen of Union were among those snagging formerly Democratic seats. Federal Way City Councilwoman Linda Kochmar and Julie Olson of Ridgefield led narrowly in the races for two more.
But another Federal Way councilman, Roger Freeman, defeated a GOP incumbent, Rep. Katrina Asay. And Covington GOP Rep. Mark Hargrove clings to a slim lead, while former Democratic Rep. Dawn Morrell has a comfortable lead over Shelly Schlumpf in Puyallup for Republican Dammeier’s seat.
Erin McCallum, president of Enterprise Washington, a pro-business group that spent money independently to promote its favored legislative candidates, said voters basically kept the status quo in the Legislature.
McCallum said Democrats had the advantage of two major ballot measures that turned out liberal voters: marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. She said social issues are powerful in Washington.
“The Republicans, the business community (have) got to recognize that and figure out how do they get the electorate to start paying attention to the public-policy issues that really impact our competitiveness,” McCallum said.
Consultant Ron Dotzauer, a veteran of Democratic campaigns, said the initiatives and the presidential election played roles in boosting turnout – making difficult headwinds for McKenna and other Republicans.
McKenna’s campaign put together a “good strategy and they executed it very well,” Dotzauer said.
“And still that may not be enough.”
Staff writer Brad Shannon contributed to this report.