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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

McMorris Rodgers wins ninth term; surprises lacking in Washington, Idaho congressional races

Nov. 3, 2020 Updated Wed., Nov. 4, 2020 at 12:40 a.m.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers is all smiles on election night at the Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers is all smiles on election night at the Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane. (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

As Election Day came to a close with no clear outcome in the presidential race and control of the U.S. Senate still undecided Tuesday night, Washington’s congressional races did not appear to have any surprises in store, while Idaho remained a bastion of congressional Republicans.

Amid what was on track to be the highest voter turnout the United States has seen in more than a century, Democrats appeared poised to retain their House majority as votes were being tallied across the country. Democrats entered Election Day hopeful they could wrest control of the Senate from the GOP, but those hopes dimmed somewhat as Republicans held onto key seats in Texas and South Carolina.

With vote counting likely to continue for days in key states and at least one Senate race in Georgia headed for a January runoff, control of the upper chamber may not be decided for weeks or even months.

In Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, incumbent GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was headed for a comfortable victory over Democratic challenger Dave Wilson to win a ninth term in the House. With 89% of votes counted, McMorris Rodgers held a lead of 59% to 40% over Wilson.

McMorris Rodgers held a dramatic fundraising advantage in the race, raising nearly $4 million to just more than $80,000 for Wilson, who emerged from August’s top-two primary after fellow Democrat Chris Armitage withdrew just weeks before the vote. In a tighter race that drew national attention in 2018, the Spokane Republican bested Democrat Lisa Brown by a 10-point margin.

Nationwide, voter turnout was on track to surpass 65% as votes continued to be counted Tuesday night. That would be the first time turnout has exceeded 65% in the universal suffrage era. The last time more than 65% of eligible voters cast their ballots was in 1908, when women, Native Americans and – because of racist voter suppression laws – most Black southerners could not vote.

In an unprecedented surge of mail-in and in-person early voting, roughly 101 million Americans had already cast their ballots by the time polls opened Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Elections Project. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a wide margin in mail-in voting after President Donald Trump spent months railing against vote-by-mail systems like Washington’s, encouraging his supporters to vote in person despite concerns about COVID-19, which was surging nationwide and had killed more than 230,000 Americans as of Tuesday.

In the 4th Congressional District – which covers most of Central Washington, including Yakima, Omak and the Tri-Cities – three-term Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse led his Democratic opponent, Richland attorney Doug McKinley, by more than a 30-point margin, 65% to 34%.

Newhouse was on track for another comfortable victory, after winning nearly 63% of votes in 2018. The Sunnyside native’s toughest challenges in the heavily GOP-leaning district have come from fellow Republican Clint Didier, who now serves as a Franklin County commissioner, in 2014 and 2016.

In southwest Washington’s 3rd District, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, fended off a challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long in a race that saw the two sides spend millions on advertising. With 95% of votes reported, Herrera Beutler led by more than nine points. It was the second contest between the two women after Long, a professor at WSU Vancouver, lost to the five-term incumbent by five points in 2018.

Herrera Beutler’s voting record indicates she has been one of the least conservative GOP lawmakers in the House, but after saying she wouldn’t vote for Trump in 2016, the Republican backed the president this year. Long sought to tie her opponent to the controversial commander-in-chief, campaigning on Trump’s handling of the pandemic and efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

In Washington’s 8th district, Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier was poised to win a second term, leading GOP challenger Jesse Jensen by seven points. Republicans had held the district, which spans the Cascades from Wenatchee to the eastern suburbs of Seattle and Tacoma, for 36 years until Schrier’s win in 2018.

The August primary suggested Schrier could be vulnerable when she won just 43% of votes and three GOP candidates combined for more than 49%, but Jensen, a Special Forces veteran and former Amazon manager, raised just $737,000 to Schrier’s more than $5 million and wasn’t able to garner major support from national GOP groups in a year when congressional Republicans were mostly playing defense.

In a race to replace retiring Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, state legislator and environmental activist Beth Doglio, former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland came out on top in a battle of two Democrats to represent the heavily left-leaning South Puget Sound district that includes Olympia and parts of Tacoma. Heck, meanwhile, defeated fellow Democrat Marko Liias to become Washington’s lieutenant governor, a role that could at least temporarily be upgraded to governor if Gov. Jay Inslee, who won a third term, is appointed to a cabinet position in a potential Biden administration.

In Washington’s other congressional races, Democratic Reps. Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith all won reelection over their Republican opponents.

Ballots will continue to be counted on Wednesday and tallying all votes could take days. Washington election officials have 21 days to certify the official election results.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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