Rep. Sam Hunt isn’t complaining, but he is scratching his head. He avoided drawing an opponent for only the second time since winning his position in the 22nd Legislative District in 2000 – and it was the first time he and his fellow district incumbents recall all three seats drawing no challenger.
A look through state elections records shows that Hunt, a six-term Democrat, dodged an opponent in 2004, his third run for the office. Karen Fraser also avoided a challenger in 2004 but has had an opponent going all the way back to 1988 and 1990, back when she was running for House seats before moving in 1992 to replace Democrat Mike Kreidler in the Senate (Kreidler went to Congress).
Only one other legislative district in the state – the 9th, serving portions of six counties in rural southeast Washington – has three incumbents avoiding challengers this year. The lucky Republicans are Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville and Reps. Susan Fagan of Pullman and Joe Schmick of Colfax.
One theory is the power of incumbency – especially in a district that is as solidly Democratic as the 22nd. Fraser is the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, while Hunt is entrenched as a committee chairman and Chris Reykdal showed he could raise a lot of money in 2010.
Redistricting this year made some districts more solidly partisan, although Republican commissioner Slade Gorton has made a point to say there were at least 15 competitive districts, by his definition.
Also, Republicans appear to be getting more focused in the seats they challenge. There are Republican challengers for both seats in the increasingly competitive, or swing, 35th district – with Dan Griffey of Allyn and Drew MacEwen of Union challenging for the two seats held for more than a decade by Democrats. That district now sweeps from Bremerton to Shelton and all the way south around Tumwater and east to touch Olympia’s southern outskirts.
The jury is out on whether the 35th is more or less Democratic. But House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt has said he thinks his party has recruited good candidates for the races it is contesting across the state, and this could let them win six to nine seats. A gain of seven is needed to pull into a tie with House Democrats, which hasn’t happened since Republican appointee Joe Marine lost the 21st district seat in 2001 to Democrat Brian Sullivan of Mukilteo (in a district that now has two Democrats, Mary Helen Roberts and Marko Liias, running unopposed).
Hunt scoffs at DeBolt’s hopes for a major GOP rebound. He serves as House Democratic Campaign Committee chairman, which means recruitment and strategy are always part of his election-season work, and he said Friday that DeBolt is always promising a comeback that never materializes.
Hunt counts 21 incumbent House Democrats including himself who have no opponent at all – and he said three more Democrats, including House Speaker Frank Chopp, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, and Reuven Carlyle, all of Seattle – face token challenges from third party or no-party candidates. That makes 24 Democratic incumbents without a serious challenger, which he called “amazing.”
By contrast, few senators of either party are getting a free ride — and only about 10 House Republican incumbents are. Among those in the House are J.T. Wilcox of Yelm in the newly shaped 2nd district and DeBolt in the 20th, and the rest are in solid GOP districts in Eastern Washington (i.e., Larry Crouse of Spokane in the 4th, Kevin Parker of Spokane in the 6th, Shelly Short of Addy in the 7th, Fagan and Schmick in the 9th, Judy Warnick in the 13th, Bruce Chandler in the 15th and Terry Nealey in the 16th).
This time around, Hunt’s hands are freer without an opponent – although he hasn’t had a serious challenge since the seat was open in 2000. Hunt said he hasn’t made up his mind on fundraising for other candidates, but said he and Reykdal will do some campaigning together.
A write-in candidacy is always possible at this point against any of the three lawmakers. Hunt said he’s going to put up yard signs, and he and Reykdal have talked about doing some preemptive door-belling in neighborhoods along the Yelm Highway that were added to the 22nd as a result of minor tinkering by the Redistricting Commission.
“We’ll be making sure we have some voter contact there,” Hunt said.
Reykdal is looking forward to a less-taxing race. He defeated five Democrats in the 2010 primary and then Republican Jason Hearn of Lacey to win the Position 1 seat two years ago – when Democrat Brendan Williams chose to step down after three terms (Williams had seven opponents in the 2004 primary and no foes in 2006 or 2008).
Reykdal still is retiring debt from that last go-round. His latest campaign finance report on file at the Public Disclosure Commission shows he owes $3,200 and has a net campaign balance of minus $email@example.com 360-753-1688 www.theolympian.com/politicsblog