OLYMPIA – Can the rich get richer? Legislative Democrats hope so.
Sitting atop a double-barreled majority unseen since the late 1970s, ruling Democrats in the statehouse think they can hold or increase that power in 2008.
Scrappy Republicans, however, have their own plans for digging out of a generational low point.
After all, there’s almost no place to go but up, and the GOP is looking to grab the coattails of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, running a tight rematch with incumbent Democrat Chris Gregoire.
Officials say polling shows the economy is hands-down the dominant issue on voters’ minds. Nov. 4 will show who gets punished for that unease: Democrats, who are the local ruling party, or Republicans, whose national leaders have been taking heat during the economic meltdown.
“Everybody has a level of insecurity and anxiety, about what’s coming and where we are, that eats away at people’s confidence,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.
Legislative races are fought district by district, with unique factors pulling on each race. The net result of all those local races, however, has major implications for statewide policy.
Democrats have controlled both the House and Senate since 2005; they currently hold majorities of 63-35 in the House, and 32-17 in the Senate. That puts Democrats close to having classic supermajorities, the almost mythical two-thirds dominance that allows a ruling party to pursue almost anything it wants.
Democrats are now playing defense on some seats gained in the midterm “blue wave” elections of 2006. Likewise, Republicans hope to roll back some of those Democratic gains, and make their own inroads.
There are 124 legislative elections on the ballot this year – the entire 98-member House and 26 of the 49 Senate seats. Some of the hardest-fought races are in the Senate, where both parties are working hard to protect vulnerable incumbents.
In the 28th District, which includes Lakewood and other areas near the Fort Lewis and McChord military bases, Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, is waging a close race with Democrat Debi Srail.
Both have backgrounds in teaching. Srail got within about 3 percentage points of Carrell in the Aug. 19 primary, and Democrats have sponsored hard-hitting attack mailers against Carrell – one features a casket sitting next to a mound of dirt, criticizing a Carrell position on health coverage for mammograms.
Republicans are on offense in the 10th District, which includes all of Island County and parts of Snohomish and Skagit counties.
The GOP hopes to take out influential Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Haugen is facing Republican Linda Haddon, a former county planning commissioner.
Other notable Senate races include:
•Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, against Democrat David Carrier, a part-time economics instructor who is involved in nonprofit organizations.
•Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, against Republican Michele Smith, a legislative assistant to GOP House members.
In the House, both parties are predicting they’ll pick up a handful of seats.
They’re largely battling over freshman lawmakers and seats opened by recent retirements. One notable challenge to a longer-serving incumbent is the race pitting Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, against Democrat John Driscoll, who directs a nonprofit health care organization.
Demographics are shifting in Ahern’s Spokane-area 6th District, a longtime GOP stronghold. Republicans are trying to regain that foothold by knocking off freshman Rep. Don Barlow, D-Spokane, who in 2006 became the first Democrat to win a House seat in the district in decades. He is facing Republican challenger Kevin Parker, a coffee-shop owner.
Incumbent Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, could have a surprising challenge on his hands against Democrat David Spring, a teacher and former business owner. Spring had been largely unknown, even to establishment Democrats, but came within about 2 percentage points of Anderson in the primary.
In a wrinkle spawned by the new “top two” primary, some general election contests feature two candidates from the same party. Among the hottest are races for House seats in the Seattle area, featuring all-Democrat tickets.
Democrats Reuven Carlyle and John Burbank are vying to replace 36th District Rep. Jim McIntire, D-Seattle, who is running for state treasurer.
Likewise, Democrats Scott White and Gerry Pollet are competing for the 46th District seat vacated by retiring Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle.