For most of the past 10 years, Washington has been a clearly blue state in no hurry to change colors.
However, the state had a distinctively red hue early in the decade, a few years after the 1994 Republican revolution. Republicans and Democrats had an equal number of seats in the state House in 2000, and GOP icon Slade Gorton was one of the state’s two U.S. senators.
Of course, 2000 cemented the GOP’s national control with the election of George W. Bush as president, but this state, as well as Thurston County, favored Al Gore.
The tide began to turn in fall 2000, when Democrat Maria Cantwell upset Gorton by 2,229 votes. Democrats began their slow move to reconquer the state Legislature while maintaining a grip on seven of the state’s nine elected positions, as well as a firm hold on the congressional delegation they’d regained narrow control of in the 1998 election.
The state Senate went to Republicans briefly after the 2002 election, but Democrats regained the majority in the 2004 election and have held on since.
State Democrats still have a 6-3 edge in congressional seats, but U.S. Rep. Brian Baird’s retirement this year could open the door for Republicans looking to take over his 3rd District seat.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray still faces no serious Republican challenge, with an election slightly more than 10 months away.
Democrats still control seven of nine statewide offices, the same margin they had after the 2000 election. They hold governor (seven straight elections), lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor, lands commissioner, insurance commissioner and state schools superintendent (which technically is nonpartisan). The GOP has the attorney general and secretary of state, having gained the AG spot and lost the lands commissioner position since 2000.
Democrats also have a hammerlock on Thurston County government, controlling all but one countywide seat. That is the Auditor’s Office, held by Republican Kim Wyman, who took over in 2000 when Sam Reed moved on to become secretary of state. Wyman is up for re-election this year with no serious opponent in sight.
In the state House, the Frank Chopp-led Democrats have a 61-37 edge, and Senate Democrats are up 31-18.
The GOP gained a seat in both legislative chambers in 2008 and another House seat in November, and they hope tax increases that likely will be approved by majority Democrats can give then help in this year’s elections.
“I think there are a lot of parallels to 1994 and the Republican bounce-back,” Wyman said Friday, adding that “1992 was the year of the newcomer and ’94 was the Republicans’. I’m kind of hoping for that.”
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688