King County legislative races: Will we see a blue wave?

Absentee ballots go out today and it marks the start of the crucial last three weeks of the election cycle.

Absentee ballots go out today and it marks the start of the crucial last three weeks of the election cycle.

This period tends to be the most exciting and entertaining as the trailing candidates try to make up ground through attack ads.

In the close races, they both do it. Halloween with its “trick or treat” slogan has a special meaning in political circles as candidates who are leading watch for a late October surprise. A presidential race always adds an additional layer of intrigue and speculation about its down ballot impact on other races.

Most pundits have been predicting for months that a Democratic “blue wave” would sweep across the country, overwhelming all things Republican in its path. In response, Republicans have retooled their strategy, led by presidential candidate John McCain and gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi. Now they use G.O.P. (Grand Old Party) in place of Republican, and they have tried to co-op the Democratic message of “change” while emphasizing bipartisan cooperation.

So will there be a “blue wave?” And, how would it affect elections in this state?

A close look at the numbers suggests that a “blue wave” is possible at the national level. But Washington state’s notoriously independent voters appear to believe that all politics are still “local.”

The Democrats already control both houses in Olympia and may even pick up a couple of seats to strengthen their numbers. But it appears most races are likely to be decided by “hometown” views and interests rather than national frustration or blue ideology. Let’s look at some key legislative races.

In the 30th District (Federal Way), incumbent Republican Skip Priest has a very capable opponent in Democrat Carol Gregory. Gregory has outspent Priest and would seem a logical “blue wave” beneficiary. However, Priest has a strong political history in Federal Way and his primary victory almost mirrored that of incumbent Democrat and district seat mate, Mark Miloscia, at about 60 percent.

The 31st District (Auburn), like the 30th District, has a House member from each party. Here again, the Democratic incumbent, Chris Hurst, and the Republican, Dan Roach, held big primary leads — and that doesn’t seem to be changing.

47th District (Maple Valley) Democratic incumbent, Geoff Simpson, could be in trouble in his race against Republican Mark Hargrove. But the issues there are again local, primarily Simpson’s personal problems. Could a “blue wave” save him? Maybe, maybe not.

In the 41st District (Mercer Island/Renton), Mercer Island Democratic Senate candidate Fred Jarrett vacated his seat, which provided an opening for Mercer Island Republican city council member Steve Litzow and Renton School Board member Marcie Maxwell, a Democrat.

Renton voters have better numbers in the 11th District and Mercer Island voters have usually owned the 41st District. Renton’s Maxwell led after the primary 53 percent to 47 percent, but Litzow could still win this race. Mercer Island voters will have to decide which is the most compelling: A Democrat or one of their own residents. Could Maxwell become a “blue wave” beneficiary?

Over in the 45th District, Democratic incumbent Roger Goodman and former Republican House member Toby Nixon are running even. The Eastside is slowly turning Democratic, but this race will give us some insight.

In legislative races, there just doesn’t seem to be persuasive evidence of a “blue wave” or that much will change.

Most incumbents, from either party, appear to be in good shape. But there is a wild card: Turnout. There are 281,000 new primarily young voters in our state with 85,000 here in King County.

Most of these, based on demographics, are likely Democratic votes. If they actually show up and vote, then we’ll know for sure whether it’s a “blue wave” or local interests.

We’ll look at federal and statewide offices in the next two weeks.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at