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From Spokane to Seattle, Democrats’ strong primary showings a warning to Republicans

In towns along Washington’s Pacific Coast, there are tsunami zones with sirens to warn of an approaching wave and marked routes to take to higher ground. Sometimes the sirens go off as a test run; other times when an earthquake elsewhere creates the potential for a tsunami.

Thankfully, such a wave has not crashed ashore, but that doesn’t mean residents shouldn’t heed the sirens and take action when they blare.

Tuesday’s election results are not proof of a blue tsunami about to wash over the electorate. But the siren is blowing, and Republicans would be wise not to assume it won’t, just as Democrats can’t be confident that it will.

Up and down the long primary ballot, there were signs of unusual Democratic strength and few Republican bulwarks. They start, of course, with the 5th Congressional District, where Democratic challenger Lisa Brown is fewer than 600 votes behind incumbent Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers at the end of the first night’s count.

The good news for McMorris Rodgers: She won in eight of the district’s 10 counties. The good news for Brown: She won in Whitman and Spokane counties, and Spokane has nearly 40,000 more votes to count.

In the U.S. Senate race, three-term Democrat Maria Cantwell finished the night with more than 55 percent, and nearly double the number of votes as her general election opponent, former state Republican chairwoman Susan Hutchison.

In southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Republican Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler is at 41 percent, about 5,000 votes ahead of Democrat Carolyn Long. But like Brown, Long has a lead in Clark County, the home of Vancouver, and unlike Brown, she split the Democratic vote with three other candidates.

In the 8th Congressional District – a suburban, exurban and rural Republican stronghold of King and Pierce counties that was made even stronger in the most recent redistricting by reaching across the Cascades to add Chelan, Douglas and Kittitas counties – Republican Dino Rossi finished on top of a crowded race for an open seat. Democrat Kim Schrier, a physician, has a lead of less than 1,400 votes for the second spot. But Democrats Jason Rittereiser, a deputy prosecutor, and Shannon Hader, a public health official, finished third and fourth, and the combined total of those three is greater than Rossi’s total at this point.

If Rossi can’t capture the seat in November, it would be the first time it wasn’t in Republican hands since it was created after the 1980 census.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, in Central Washington’s 4th District, has to be the most comfortable Republican in the state, receiving more than 62 percent of the vote against Democratic challenger Christine Brown.

Challenges by self-styled progressives to incumbent Democratic House members didn’t materialize. Democrat Sarah Smith, who styled herself as another Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Socialist Democrat who knocked off a powerful New York City congressman, didn’t take down 10-term incumbent Rep. Adam Smith. He received more than 50 percent of the vote and will likely face Republican Doug Basler, who is almost 3,000 votes ahead of Sarah Smith.

In Spokane County, Democrats fared better than they have for years in some races, particularly in the 6th Legislative District. Jessa Lewis, a single mom and former national delegate for Bernie Sanders, is nearly 500 votes ahead of Jeff Holy, former law enforcement officer and a three-term House member trying to move up to the state Senate. Kay Murano, an executive director of the Low Income Housing Consortium, is leading incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Volz, the chief deputy county treasurer, by almost 1,500 votes.

The general election race for the open House seat will feature former independent turned Democrat Dave Wilson against Republican Jenny Graham. Wilson finished the night nearly 3,000 votes ahead of Graham, and the total number of votes for Democrats in the four-way race was greater than the total Republican vote.

Remember this is the 6th District, once known as a silk-stocking Republican stronghold. Although it has become more of a swing district in recent decades, and has elected an occasional Democrat to the Legislature, it hasn’t sent three Democrats to the Legislature since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.

Republicans are on top in other reliably red legislative districts, but Democratic challengers are polling better than most years, especially those years when Democrats couldn’t even muster a candidate.

In Spokane County, Republican County Commissioner Al French, with two terms on the county board after two terms as a Spokane city councilman, trails a political newcomer Robbi Katherine Anthony by nearly 4,000 votes. A local elected official makes many tough decisions, which means he or she makes plenty of enemies, so it would be wrong to say the notation “Prefers Republican Party” after French’s name is solely responsible for where he finds himself at the end of election night. But it certainly didn’t seem to help him in a district that was the last one in the county to put a Democrat on the board.

It’s important to remember that finishing first in a primary is primarily good for bragging rights and the top spot on the November ballot, and tens of thousands of votes remain to be counted in Spokane County, the 5th Congressional District and the state’s other nine districts, so the final results could shift.

It’s also important to remember that primary results are illustrative, but not necessarily predictive. Things can change in the next three months, although only if candidates listen to the warning sirens and take action.