OLYMPIA — The U.S. Senate bid between powerful Democratic incumbent Patty Murray and Republican Dino Rossi is the top race on a very crowded ballot for Washington state voters, who also will decide a handful of competitive House races that could play a role in which party controls Congress.
Nine statewide ballot measures, including a measure that would create an income tax on the state’s highest earners, dozens of legislative races and a competitive Supreme Court contest also highlight Tuesday’s midterm elections, leading Secretary of State Sam Reed to predict 66 percent of the state’s 3.6 million voters will return their ballots.
“It’s a much more highly charged political environment than is normal for a midterm election,” Reed said. “Voters are definitely much more engaged.”
Republicans say voter frustration over the economy and taxes will translate to wins for the GOP in both the state and federal races.
“The political pendulum does swing,” said state Republican Chairman Luke Esser. “It has swung back. The Democrats have had complete control of Olympia and Washington, D.C. and things aren’t going well in this country.”
But Democrats haven’t ceded defeat just yet. State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said that he expects Democrats to lose seats, but not the majority, in the Legislature. He said that he thinks the Murray race, along with several House races are very close, “but we feel good about our turnout.”
“Washington is a blue state,” he said.
University of Washington political science professor Matt Barreto, said that regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, “it will be a wake up call to Democrats.”
“Just two years ago, you had the president winning the state by 17 points and (Gov. Chris) Gregoire winning handily,” he said. “It’s clear that voters have lost a lot of enthusiasm for the Democratic Party that existed in 2006 and 2008. The Democrats are going to have to go back to the drawing board, even if they win, to decide how to talk to voters about the economy and what’s next on the agenda.”
Here is a look at the top races in the state:
• U.S. Senate: Three-term incumbent Murray is facing a competitive campaign from Republican Dino Rossi, a real estate investor and former state senator who was unsuccessful in two prior bids for governor. Recent polling has showed a tight race, and millions have been spent on dueling TV ads. A flood of high-profile Democrats campaigned in the state this month with Murray, including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton. The race could be critical in determining which party controls the Senate.
• Legislature: All 98 state House seats and 25 of 49 Senate seats are on the ballot. Many positions are considered safe for either side, leaving intense battles over a relatively small slice to decide which party controls the Legislature for the rest of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s second term. Republicans are expected to make gains in this election, but whether they can seize control of either the House or Senate won’t be known for days as mail-in ballots trickle in to county offices for counting.
• Supreme Court: Three state Supreme Court justices are also up for re-election, but only one faces competition in the general election. Justice Richard Sanders faces Bainbridge Island attorney and former Court of Appeals Judge Charlie Wiggins on the ballot. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen and Justice Jim Johnson appear on the ballot unopposed. Sanders, who has faced controversy both on and off the court over the years, recently came under fire for comments at a meeting suggesting that racial bias plays no significant role in the criminal justice system. Sanders later told The Seattle Times that he stood by his remarks, and that certain minority groups are “disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem.”
• Initiatives: Nine ballot measures are vying for the public’s attention, with initiatives on creating a state income tax on the state’s wealthiest, and two competing liquor privatization measures getting the most focus. Other measures include repealing new taxes on candy, soda and bottled water, and limiting the Legislature’s ability to raise taxes. One of the two constitutional amendments on the ballot would give judges more power in denying bail, a measure brought in response to fatal shootings of four police officers last year by Maurice Clemmons, who had been released on bail less than a week before the attack.