Democrats in Washington state are gearing up to have a big election night Tuesday. Just how big will it be? Here are a few things to watch for as the results come in.
Democrats in Washington state may have ample reason to celebrate Tuesday night.
The August primary, which often serves as a predictor of general-election results in state legislative races, saw Democrats outperforming GOP candidates in 16 races for legislative seats now held by Republicans.
Meanwhile, Democrats are making strong runs for three of Washington’s Republican-held congressional seats, including that of U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, who is retiring from the 8th Congressional District. Elsewhere, Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is fending off a challenge from Lisa Brown, a former state Senate majority leader, while U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is locked in a tight race against Democrat Carolyn Long.
National polling suggests Democrats are likely to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But, as President Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House made clear two years ago, nothing in politics is certain until the last ballots are counted.
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“It’s not like I haven’t been here before and been crushed like a fly,” said Cathy Allen, a Democratic political consultant.
Here are five big factors to watch for Tuesday night.
Will young voters turn out?
Voters ages 18 to 29 are less frequent voters, but when they show up, they tend to vote for Democrats about 60 percent of the time, said Mark Alan Smith, a University of Washington professor of political science.
A biannual survey by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University found that 18- to 29-year-olds are significantly more likely to vote in this year’s midterm elections compared to 2010 and 2014.
Additionally, the state saw a surge in new voter registrations this year compared to 2014 — particularly in King County. Those new registrants tend to skew younger and more Democratic.
Has the Kavanaugh effect worn off?
Turnout so far has been unusually high for a midterm election year, which normally is a good sign for Democrats, Smith said.
Yet so far, it seems as if Republicans are also turning out fairly strongly, said Ben Anderstone, a Democratic political consultant. “It is unusual to see a year where one party is polling so well where the other party is also fairly enthusiastic,” Anderstone said.
Several polls showed a Republican boost following the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Those included an Elway Research poll that showed Republican Dino Rossi leading Democrat Kim Schrier by 10 points in the 8th Congressional District race around the time of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. More recent polls have shown a much tighter contest.
Will Trump’s incendiary immigration rhetoric help or hurt local Republicans?
President Trump has gone all out in recent days to stoke fears surrounding illegal immigration, including sending thousands of troops to the U.S. border to meet a still-distant migrant caravan and pledging to end birthright citizenship.
But those issues are unlikely to motivate Republican voters in Washington state — and could end up alienating highly educated suburban women, said Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy at Washington State University.
This could hurt Rossi in the 8th District, which includes suburbs in east Pierce and King counties, as well as Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, Clayton said.
Others say Trump’s immigration rhetoric will just get lost amid all the other noise and controversies coming from the White House.
“It’s just another thing to throw on the board,” said Peter Graves, a Republican campaign consultant.
Is King County hostile territory for the GOP?
Republicans already hold few legislative seats in King County after several recent suburban losses. Now, some of the GOP’s last remaining footholds in the state’s most populous county appear to be in jeopardy, including in Issaquah and Auburn.
“There’s going to be almost no Republicans left in the Seattle metro area,” predicted Anderstone, the Democratic political consultant.
Should that happen, Republicans will have to figure out whether the region’s changing demographics mean they are locked out of the Seattle area for good, or whether they can later win back some of these seats.
“That is the $64,000 question,” said Kevin Carns, director of The Reagan Fund, which works to elect Republicans to the state House.
How much can Democrats capitalize on Trump’s low approval ratings?
Republicans say their local legislative candidates will win races the way they always have: By focusing on state-level issues rather than the national political environment.
But history has shown the president’s party almost always loses seats in midterm elections. And state legislators can be particularly affected by the national trend, mainly due to their lower name recognition with voters.
“Every legislator thinks everybody knows them, but that’s just not the case,” said Ron Dotzauer, a Democratic campaign consultant. “The legislative races in the state of Washington play off of national politics much more than people understand or realize.”
That leaves Republicans mostly trying to limit the damage this election cycle.
And, of course, planning a comeback for the next time a Democrat occupies the White House.