President Barack Obama is getting involved in three Washington legislative races, marking the first time he’s endorsed candidates that far down the ballot in the Evergreen State, top Democrats said Monday.
Obama is throwing his weight behind races in swing districts that could decide control of the Legislature.
Receiving Obama’s endorsement this week were Lisa Wellman, a Democratic candidate challenging Republican state Sen. Steve Litzow of Mercer Island; Mike Pellicciotti, a Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Linda Kochmar of Federal Way; and Kristine Reeves, a Democrat challenging Republican state Rep. Teri Hickel of Federal Way.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien and the chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said “this is definitely something that at least this president hasn’t done before.”
“This new wave of endorsements is not something we’ve seen before from the top of the ticket,” Fitzgibbon said.
Fitzgibbon said the president’s endorsement “brings plenty of attention” to the three races and boosts the chances of Democrats winning them in November.
But Republicans aren’t so sure the Democratic president’s endorsement will make much of a difference.
“Most candidates don’t really want to be associated with Washington, D.C.,” said state Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the chairman of the House Republican Organizational Committee, the House Republicans’ campaign arm.
Wilcox, who has been working to defend Hickel’s and Kochmar’s seats, said most voters there are focused on local issues and not likely to be influenced by the president’s endorsement.
“Teri and Linda have been in that district for generations now. People know them, and I think they are voting for individuals, not for parties, in those races,” said Wilcox, R-Yelm.
Obama’s endorsements of the three Democratic candidates in Washington is part of his larger push to help Democrats reclaim statehouses throughout the country.
According to The New York Times, Obama is assisting 150 legislative candidates this year, his biggest foray ever into state legislative politics.
As of April, Republicans controlled 30 legislatures throughout the country, while Democrats controlled 12, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Seven legislatures, including Washington’s, are split, with Democrats controlling one chamber and Republicans controlling the other.
This fall, Democrats in Washington would need to gain two seats to gain control of the state Senate, which is controlled by a Republican majority.
Republicans would need to win two seats in the state House to wrest control of the chamber from Democrats, and need only one seat to create a power-sharing arrangement that last existed from 1999 to 2001.
Wellman, a managing director at a software company, narrowly bested Litzow in the August primary in the 41st Legislative District, which includes Mercer Island, Newcastle, Issaquah, Sammamish, and parts of Bellevue and Renton.
Meanwhile, Pellicciotti — an assistant attorney general and former King County deputy prosecutor — led Kochmar by 5 percentage points in the 30th Legislative District, which includes Federal Way, Algona, Pacific, Milton, Auburn and Des Moines.
In the same district, Reeves, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray who now works for the state Department of Commerce, beat Hickel by less than a percentage point in the primary.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee also is benefiting from Obama’s support. On Monday, Inslee’s campaign released an ad featuring footage of the president praising the governor’s leadership at a June fundraiser.
Inslee, who is seeking a second term, faces a challenge from Republican Bill Bryant, a former Port of Seattle commissioner.