Republicans eye weak legislative districts as Democrats batten down against Red Wave

Jul 27, 2022, 10:31 AM | Updated: 11:07 am
(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

All 98 Washington state House seats are up in the air this election cycle along with 25 of 49 seats in the Washington state Senate.

Republicans would need to pick up nine state representative seats to get the majority in the House, while they need four seats to take over the Senate. That’s definitely a long shot.

The Republican strategy and Democratic response

Even if Republicans managed to flip a couple of seats over in the Senate, it would have a big impact on the Democratic majority’s ability to get the 25 votes necessary to pass some of the more progressive bills. For Republicans, the strategy is to paint Democrats as having gone too far to the left, continuing to link them to the “defund the police” movement, and Seattle politics while also blaming them for failing to pass anything addressing tax relief amid soaring inflation despite reaping better than expected revenue.

But as far as Democrats are concerned, that’s a lot of noise. They believe that voters will understand what’s at stake, pointing to racist attacks, gun violence, and the ever-looming threat of MAGA-backed leadership.

But Democrats are voicing some concern about the current GOP strategy.

“I think that they’re trying to play on a lot of different issues and some racist tropes, frankly, I mean, we have three African-American legislators in the 44th district, April Berg, Brandy Donaghy as well as John Lovick, they are incredibly great legislators, well respected, have done that work,” State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said. “They’ve also been the target of racist attacks, their signs being defaced their signs being stolen, their campaign workers being accosted with racist comments and all of these different things.”

Podlodowski thinks that Republicans are failing to stop the encroachment of white supremacy in their party by not standing up to political extremists, especially as we see more hyper-nationalist paramilitary groups like the Oathkeepers and Proud Boys operate and plan attacks in the Pacific Northwest.

“As for the Republicans? Well, they’ve been silent,” Podlodowski said. “They haven’t said a thing about these. So I fear that the Republicans are trying to stir up hatred. They’re trying to stir up a little, a little bit of violence, frankly, by not saying anything and not calling their people out there, that’s not okay.”

The “soft” districts: The 26th and 44th Senate and House elections

One of the elections Podlodowski wanted to highlight as an example of this is the 44th district’s Senate election, which is likely to be between incumbent John Lovick and Republican first-time candidate Fredrick Heater.

But she believes voters will know the real deal when they see it.

“They’re trying to paint John Lovick, a 31-year veteran of the United States Coast Guard, as somebody who’s anti-American, give me a break,” said Podlodowski. “John Lovick is probably the most stand-up guy you will ever meet and an incredible American. They’re just throwing money after money after money on this from outside PACs and dark money PACs.  This is outside money that the GOP is throwing against an incredible multi-term African-American legislator, stirring up anti-Americanism, stirring up anti-incumbency issues, but also stirring up racism, and violence, it’s not okay.”

In a similar situation, a black staffer working for the 44th District House Representative April Berg canvassing in a majority white neighborhood was harassed. State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich disputed the idea that the party would allow these racist attacks to continue.

“I would certainly denounce any and all racist activity. That was obviously not done by anybody associated with our organization, otherwise, they would no longer be associated with our organization,” Heimlich said. “I think, unfortunately, in this political environment, there have been incidences of things like that on both sides. I mean, Senator Emily Randall was in the news for cheering the defacement of a billboard.”

The incident he is referring to is the vandalism of an anti-abortion billboard that incumbent Senator Emily Randall reposted encouragement of the defacement. Randall is currently running for reelection in the 26th district, and is set to face either David Crissman or Jesse Young depending on the results of the Republican primary on August 2.

“Republicans have been very consistent in every circumstance of condemning political violence and condemning racism … if we win, we will be gracious in victory, and if we lose, we will be gracious in defeat, Heimlich continued. “That’s what I think our election should be about. If the majority wins, it’s what the people want. So I would encourage everybody on all sides, not to resort to violence, certainly not to engage in racist behavior or activity, but to put the focus on the issues, and that’s what our candidates in our campaigns are doing.”

Still, Republicans have made clear they’re targeting the 44th District which they see as an opportunity to flip all three seats, including Senator Lovick’s Senate seat, which he was appointed to in 2021 after years of service in the state House, when Steve Hobbs exited the Senate to take over as Secretary of State.

He says Lovick’s Senate seat is one they’re watching closely along, with Brandy Donaghy’s House seat where she faces former Republican State Representative Mark Harmsworth who’s trying to return to the fold. Specifically by targeting issues which he says Washington democrats have neglected in favor of focusing exclusively on large metro areas like Seattle and Tacoma and leaving behind more rural and suburban districts.

“[Harmsworth] is somebody that has represented that district previously, he lost in 2018 when it was a blue wave,” Heimlich said. “Mark is a very sharp guy, he understands traffic and congestion. That’s a commuter district and people could have been kind of stuck, trying to get to work trying to get places and their priorities maybe are not always heard by a Democratic caucus that has been too focused on Seattle and has neglected other parts of the state.”

Heimlich says if things lean red Lovick’s Senate seat is potentially a fourth Senate seat pickup for the GOP. The others they think they can flip include Emily Randall’s Senate seat in the 26th District. Sen. Randall only won the seat by about 100 votes in the 2018 election, and that was with the advantage of the “blue wave” spurred by the backlash against former president Donald Trump.

The Democrats acknowledge the slim margin Randall had when she pulled that 2018 victory out but are confident that the work she has done in the past four years will be enough.

“Emily Randall has done the work since 2018. We are determined to win by more than 100 votes on this side of it. But her opponent Jessie Young, he’s cut from the same cloth as these MAGA Republicans, he hangs out with Three Percenters and Proud Boys. He’s been barred from being in the same room with a House staffer alone because he’s berated staff and has been inappropriate,” recalled Podldowski.

“They’re putting a ton of money behind a guy that’s not acceptable to have as any kind of employee, let alone somebody who’s elected and representing the people of the 26th District,” Podldowski continued. “We think Emily has really delivered whether it’s lower tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge … We think Emily’s going to win in that one but we’re not taking anything for granted. We are going out there, knocking on every door, making phone calls, doing phone banking, making certain that Emily has all the support she needs to win.”

And do everything they can indeed, with the race in the 26th being the most expensive in the state, both campaigns have raised about $400,000 each with a combined $300,000 in outside money for marketing campaigns against each of them.

The 47th District

Republicans also see the Senate seat in the 47th District as a prime opportunity for a pickup.

“LD 47, which is Kent and Covington, our candidate there is Bill Boyce. Bill has been on the school board and is currently on the city council, and he’s a great member of the community, Heimlich said. “And so I think those are two [26th and 47th;] are really prime pickup opportunities for us where we’ve got quality candidates and a good opportunity to win.”

That’s not to say that state Democrats don’t also see opportunities to increase their hold over the House and Senate, where they have a 16-seat and seven-seat advantage, respectively.

The 42nd and 10th Districts

Specifically, Podlodowski points to the 42nd District Senate election between incumbent Sen. Simon Sefzik and democratic challenger Sharon Shoemake. Sefzik got appointed to the seat after the death of Sen. Doug Erickson, making this his first election campaign.

The 10th District is also up for grabs, which has historically oscillated between Democrats and Republicans. The election will be between Navy veteran Clyde Shavers and incumbent Rep. Greg Gilday.

“So lots of opportunities for us. I think about what Democrats have done in the last six years, when I started as state party chair,” Podlodowski said. “We had a one-seat minority in the state Senate, and a two-seat majority in the state House. Now we have a seven-seat majority in the state Senate and a 16-seat majority in the State House. Republicans have lost because they never delivered and because they kept things from happening. I know that my counterpart, the Republican chair [Heimlich,] is upset about that. We’ve been winning race after race after race, he would like to win some but it’s not going to be his year. Democrats are going to come back.”

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Republicans eye weak legislative districts as Democrats batten down against Red Wave