Opinion

Warning signs for incumbents and Democrats in 2010 | Bob Roegner

Two years ago, a blue wave swept across the country, carrying Democrats to power.

But with economic woes and an unhappy electorate, many pundits are predicting a red tide that will sweep Republicans back into office.

Is the public really angry enough to "throw all the rascals out," or is it other people's rascals they're mad at? And, is it anger with just Democrats, or is it any incumbent? What is the impact of the Tea Party movement? And what does it mean here in Washington state?

Looking at legislative races, the August primary election really didn't give us much of an answer. There was no red tide washing over every Democrat or incumbent in sight, as seemed to be the case in some other states. But there were some warning signs that all incumbents, particularly Democrats, should note if they want to be around come January. Recently, Democratic legislative leaders were so concerned about public reaction that they decided it might be better to stay home and campaign rather than go to Olympia for a special session on the budget. They also didn't want to provide the Republicans with more ammunition. Not a particularly statesman-like decision, but probably a politically wise one.

Nationally, President Barack Obama moved to end the war in Iraq, while at the same time making "jobs" the number one agenda item for his administration. The move is designed to refocus the national debate and rally the country toward a goal everyone can support. You will see more moves in that direction. But the real goal is to try and maintain Democratic control of the House and Senate.

Here in Washington state, we got several clues about how our congressional delegation might look after the election.

The Patty Murray and Dino Rossi race for U.S. Senate will be the headliner. Murray, the Democratic incumbent, appeared to come out of the primary with a comfortable 46 percent to 33 percent lead over Rossi. However, the overall Republican turnout was higher than the Democratic turnout, and the combined Democratic vote didn't get to 50 percent. So Murray's margin may be misleading. Republican second-place finisher Clint Didier contributed to many cynics' perception of candidates when he used his Tea Party ties and 12 percent share of the vote to try and push Rossi into supporting his conservative agenda in exchange for his endorsement. Since Rossi had to turn down the overture, it almost appeared to be staged to make Rossi look like a statesman and a moderate. Rossi knows the conservatives don't really have any choice but to support him, and with 12 percent, Didier and the Tea Party really didn't have much bargaining power.

In the congressional races, both sides knew that Republican incumbents Doc Hastings in Yakima and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers in Spokane were going to be easily re-elected, as were Democratic incumbents Norm Dicks, Jim McDermott and Jay Inslee. Both sides also thought that Democrat Rick Larson in Snohomish County could be in trouble. And both sides were right. Larson trailed John Koster by about 300 votes. However, the overall Democratic vote ran counter to the statewide results and was 5 percent higher than the Republican vote, suggesting that Larson could still pull this out. Since Koster has embraced the Tea Party movement, this race will be watched very closely.

Dave Reichert in the 8th District in Auburn is always marked as the most vulnerable Republican. Reichert may have felt like he was on vacation as he polled 47 percent to Democrat Suzan Delbene's 26 percent. Since the Democratic turnout was low in this swing district, Reichert could still lose, but it seems unlikely.

Other than the Larson race, there are two other races to watch. In District 9, which is King and Pierce counties, Republicans think Democratic incumbent Adam Smith might be in trouble because he only polled 51 percent. But a closer look at the numbers suggest that Smith is still in good position. His general election opponent, Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri, only took 25.7 percent and the total Republican vote only hit 45 percent. Also, the 3.3 percent that voted for the Green Party will come back to Smith in November. But Smith does have work to do in the Pierce County portion of the district.

The other race is in District 3 down in the Olympia area, where Brian Baird is not running again. Longtime political insider and former Democratic legislator Denny Heck was considered the likely winner from day one. He did come out of the primary leading Republican State Rep. Jaime Herrera, 31 percent to 27 percent. However, not only was Heck expected to have a bigger lead, but the Republican turnout was almost 11 points higher than the Democratic turnout. Interestingly, 4 percent voted independent. Apparently, they're not terribly fond of either party, but they are more likely to vote Republican in November.

Based on primary numbers, only one incumbent (Larson) appears to be in serious trouble, although Murray could be. And it doesn't look like the red tide is going to sweep out enough Democrats to make much of a change. But in politics anything can happen...and usually does.

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