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Trump revenge? Biden backlash? Six things to watch for in Washington's Tuesday primary

Seattle Times - 7/31/2022

Jul. 31—The candidates have had their say. Mud has been slung, drop boxes surveilled and political consultants paid.

On Tuesday, vote counting will begin in Washington's primary, narrowing the field in more than 500 congressional, legislative and local races across the state to the top two candidates, who will move on to the Nov. 8 general election.

Here are six things to watch for:

#1: Trump's revenge spree

All eyes will be on U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who are facing voters for the first time since they voted to impeach ex-President Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Trump is out for revenge and has endorsed challengers against both: Joe Kent, an Army Ranger combat veteran versus Herrera Beutler, and Loren Culp, a former small-town police chief and 2020 gubernatorial candidate, against Newhouse.

But Trump's endorsement failed to clear the field for his favored candidates. A slew of other Republicans are competing, splitting the anti-incumbent vote. The brawl in Herrera Beutler's district between Kent and rival challenger Heidi St. John has grown especially fierce.

A late glob of PAC money, some of it from hidden donors, is seeking to capitalize on the divisions and eke Herrera Beutler and Newhouse through the primary.

Meanwhile, the incumbents are not talking much about Trump as voters weigh in on their fates. It's not that they've run away from their impeachment votes. But they've mostly avoided the national spotlight, unlike fellow impeachers and Jan. 6 committee members Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who have continued to loudly denounce Trump's conduct.

For those keeping score: Of the 10 House Republicans who joined Democrats in impeaching Trump, four retired rather than face voters again. Two others had primaries in June. Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., lost his seat, while Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., survived.

Along with Herrera Beutler and Newhouse, one other Republican who voted for impeachment also faces a Trump-endorsed opponent in a Tuesday primary: Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich. And Cheney's primary against a Trump-backed challenger is coming up on Aug. 16.

#2: Red wave building

Inflation is in the headlines and on voters' minds. President Joe Biden's job approval rating has tanked, even in Washington. And history shows the president's party often gets walloped during the midterms.

In 2018, Republicans lost 40 House seats to Democrats in a backlash against Trump. In 2010, Democrats lost 63 House seats as voters soured on President Barack Obama.

So the question is not so much whether a red wave is building, but just how high it will crest. While Tuesday's primary won't settle that question, it should provide clues.

The vote totals for Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish, will be worth watching.

Murray, seeking a sixth term, has shown strength in recent polling, but faces a well-funded Republican challenger in Tiffany Smiley, a veterans advocate from Pasco. Political watchers will have filtered out the noise on the primary ballot that also includes 16 lesser-known Senate candidates.

Schrier is in the most precarious position among the state's congressional Democrats. Four years ago, she defeated Republican Dino Rossi to win the swing 8th Congressional District amid a midterm backlash against Trump. Her primary vote share could be a harbinger of whether she can survive the Biden backlash in November.

On the legislative level, Republicans are pushing hard to capitalize on the favorable midterm environment to try to take a majority in the state House and/or Senate, giving them negotiating clout with Gov. Jay Inslee and Democrats who hold near monopoly power over state government.

Democrats control both chambers in the Legislature, with a 57-41 majority over Republicans in the state House, and 29-20 in the state Senate.

The GOP is hoping to make inroads in suburban districts where it has lost in recent years.

One race to watch is the Kent area's 47th District state Senate seat contest, where Republican Bill Boyce and Democrats Satwinder Kaur and Claudia Kauffman are competing to advance.

Also, look to the 26th Legislative District of Kitsap and Pierce counties, where incumbent Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, faces a tough challenge from Republican Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor.

#3: Which Republican emerges against Schrier?

Three Republican challengers have dominated endorsements and fundraising as they compete to match up against Schrier in November.

Reagan Dunn, the Metropolitan King County Council member, is the only one with elected experience. But his past struggles with alcoholism and divorce-case details have been aired by opponents who say he'd be vulnerable to attacks by Democrats.

Jesse Jensen, an Army Ranger combat veteran and Zillow director, has dueled with Dunn and argued he's got a cleaner slate. He ran in 2020 and came within 4 percentage points of Schrier despite being vastly outspent.

Matt Larkin, a businessman who ran for attorney general in 2020, has put $530,000 into his own campaign and is positioning himself as a conservative outsider.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision ending federal protections for abortion, Democrats are certain to zero in on the abortion stance of whichever Republican candidate emerges, particularly Larkin and Jensen who both describe themselves as pro-life who have supported or not ruled out new federal restrictions on abortion. A poll co-sponsored by The Seattle Times showed abortion at the top of concerns for likely midterm voters, alongside inflation.

A fourth Republican, ex-Amazon principal technical program manager Scott Stephenson, has also been making a late play as the most unabashed pro-Trump candidate in the race.

#4: Nonpartisan vs. partisans for secretary of state

The primary will narrow the field for secretary of state, with voters choosing among partisans and a candidate running as a nonpartisan.

Republicans lost their sole statewide elected official in Washington last year, when Secretary of State Kim Wyman resigned to take an election security job in the Biden administration.

In her place, Inslee appointed Democratic state Sen. Steve Hobbs to the position, which put a Democrat in the office for the first time in nearly six decades.

Hobbs is seeking to fill the remainder of Wyman's term through 2024, and Democrats have united behind him, giving him a massive fundraising edge.

Julie Anderson, the Pierce County auditor, is running as a nonpartisan, arguing the public would have more confidence in the state's chief elections officer if they are perceived as untethered to a political party.

The Republican field is split among competitors including state Sen. Keith Wagoner, former state Sen. Mark Miloscia and Bob Hagglund, a Snohomish County Republican.

Also running as an "America First" Republican is Tamborine Borrelli, who leads an "election integrity" group that has been sanctioned for making legally meritless claims about fraud in the 2020 election.

#5: Seattle's open legislative seats

A rush of retirements in the Legislature will give Seattle's delegation in Olympia a shake-up, with more open seats than the city has seen in decades.

There are likely no partisan gains to be made — all the seats are held by Democrats and almost surely will remain held by Democrats — but there are implications for the makeup of the Democratic caucus.

In the Senate, longtime state senators Reuven Carlyle, in Northwest Seattle, and David Frockt, in Northeast Seattle, announced their retirements. That spurred the representatives in their districts, Noel Frame and Javier Valdez, respectively, to leave their House seats to run for Senate. Frame and Valdez both have rivals, but they've significantly out-fundraised the newcomers.

Those vacancies, in turn, have drawn numerous challengers and wide open campaigns. Both the Northwest Seattle 36th District open House seat and the open seat in the Northeast Seattle 46th District have drawn five candidates, all Democrats.

In West Seattle, state Rep. Eileen Cody is retiring after 27 years of representing the 34th Legislative District. Two Democrats and a Republican are vying for her seat. And in South Seattle, Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley is leaving the Legislature after one term. Four Democrats are running for her 37th District seat.

#6: It's a cliché, but ...

This election, like every election, will come down to turnout.

Statewide, turnout was slightly down through the end of the week, compared with the same time in 2018, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

In raw numbers, more ballots have actually been returned than in 2018, but as a percentage of population, ballot returns were lagging about 1 percentage point behind the 2018 midterms.

"The 2018 midterms had a massive turnout," said Charlie Boisner, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office. "So the fact that we're kind of pacing with what we experienced in 2018 is showing increased participation, at least at this stage in the voting period."

In King County, elections officials had projected a 45% turnout for the primary election and, as of Thursday, returns were trending 4%-5% behind projections, said Halei Watkins, a spokesperson for King County Elections. Ballot returns were also about 3 percentage points behind 2018.

Watkins said that late voting is the norm in primaries, with 50%-60% of ballots generally not arriving until the week of the election itself.


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