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Tuesday’s election could bring a number of surprises. Here are some races to watch:

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democrat Natasha Hill answer questions during a debate at KSPS studios in Spokane on Oct. 20, 2022. The race between the two candidates is one of many on Tuesday's ballot in Spokane County.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democrat Natasha Hill answer questions during a debate at KSPS studios in Spokane on Oct. 20, 2022. The race between the two candidates is one of many on Tuesday's ballot in Spokane County. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – The most expensive U.S. Senate race in state history. No official Republican for the first time in decades in the Secretary of State race. A number of key legislative seats still up in the air. And voters for the first time selecting members of a five-member Spokane County Commission.

Results of Tuesday’s midterm election could be full of surprises, with a number of key races getting tighter.

Ballots must be returned to a drop box or postmarked by 8 p.m. that day. For more information on where to vote, visit VoteWA.gov or your local county elections office. County auditors have encouraged voters to get their ballots in earlier rather than later to allow for quicker processing and faster results.

Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University, called this midterm election cycle the “strangest” he’s seen.

“Obviously, turnout’s going to be key,” Clayton said.

Normally, the midterm election is a straightforward referendum on the party in power, and generally the majority loses a ton of seats, Clayton said. This election, because of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, inflation, and the continued presence of former President Donald Trump, this year has remained close for both parties.

“I don’t think we should see this as a one-off,” Clayton said. “Intense polarization in our politics is driving up participation. That’s a good thing for our democracy.”

This year, candidates are running a “base strategy” in which they play to their bases as opposed to trying to sway moderate voters, Clayton said.

Democrats have pushed abortion as the key issue, pointing to their Republican opponents as potential votes for a nationwide ban following the Supreme Court’s overruling of Roe v. Wade, and have argued democracy itself is at stake this year. Republicans have criticized the Biden administration and other Democrats for being lax on crime and not doing enough to lower rising costs.

Here’s a look at some of the key races this election:

U.S. Senate

National party narratives could not be more true in Washington than in the race to the U.S. Senate seat, which has become the most expensive in state history.

Democratic incumbent Patty Murray, who has served in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, faces political newcomer Tiffany Smiley, a veterans advocate from Pasco. In what started as a sure Murray win has become a closer-than-expected race.

Murray has touted her support for expanding abortion access and her work throughout the pandemic to secure funding for Washington in the large federal infrastructure package, the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act. Smiley has criticized Murray for not doing enough to lower rising costs and stop crime.

In the final weeks before the election, polls have showed the gap between the two candidates tightening.

A poll from KHQ-TV showed Murray ahead by 5 percentage points, within the margin of error. The most recent Trafalgar Group poll showed Murray leading Smiley by just over 1 percentage point. Others polls, however, show Murray with a slightly larger lead. The WA Poll conducted by the Seattle Times and other media outlets showed her up by 8 percentage points. Nate Silver’s political news website fivethirtyeight.com, which compiles averages of polls, showed Smiley within 6 percentage points, as of Friday.

Though he still expects Murray to win, Clayton said if Tuesday proves to have a red wave, Smiley could pull off a major upset.

The close race has brought in significant spending from both national and state parties.

Murray has raised more than $18.7 million this election and spent almost $21 million, more than double what she spent in 2016. Smiley has raised more than $16.5 million and spent almost $14.8 million. In 2018, Republican Susan Hutchinson only raised about $2 million in her campaign against Washington’s other Democratic senator, Maria Cantwell.

Much of the money has been spent on attack ads against both candidates.

Legislative control

In the Legislature, a number of key races could decide the makeup of next year’s session, though a total flip of control is unlikely.

The current makeup of the Senate is 28-21, and the current makeup of the House of Representatives is 57-41, with Democrats controlling both chambers. In order to flip control, Republicans would need to gain four Senate seats and nine House seats, which doesn’t seem likely after the August primary results.

Still, a number of swing districts have Republicans hopeful that they could garner a few more seats, making it more difficult for Democrats to pass legislation. Democratic majorities in recent years have allowed them to pass sweeping police reform legislation, a climate package that’s been pushed by Gov. Jay Inslee for years, and a capital gains tax.

A number of expensive races could decide how much gets done in the Legislature in the next two years.

In the 26th legislative district encompassing Gig Harbor, Democratic incumbent Sen. Emily Randall has raised nearly $1 million while her opponent, Republican Sen. Jess Young, has raised just under $800,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Political action committees have also independently spent $2.4 million in attack ads for the race, according to The Seattle Times.

The Senate race in Whatcom County’s 42nd legislative district also has drawn significant funding with Republican incumbent Sen. Simon Sefzik raising almost $800,000 and Democratic Rep. Sharon Shewmake raising just under $700,000, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. The House race in the same district has drawn significant funding with Democratic incumbent Alicia Rule raising almost $570,000 and her Republican opponent Tawsha Thompson raising almost $375,000.

Another race that has drawn attention is the House seat in the 10th Legislative District, which includes Island County and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties. The Republican incumbent Greg Gilday has raised more than $347,000 and his Democratic opponent Clyde Shavers has raised almost $480,000.

Last week, the Everett Herald rescinded their endorsement for Shavers after learning he had mispresented his career as an attorney and as a member of the Navy.

Spokane County has a number of legislative seats on the ballot this year as well, but none of them are as competitive as those on the West Side – at least in ways likely to flip a seat to a different party.

Perhaps one of the closest in Eastern Washington will be in Spokane Valley’s 4th Legislative District where incumbent Rep. Rob Chase will face another Republican, Leonard Christian. Christian has criticized Chase for extreme views and support for a number of conspiracy theories.

Secretary of State

The Secretary of State’s race is an add-on this year after former Secretary Kim Wyman left the job to join the Biden administration.

Steve Hobbs, the appointed Democratic incumbent, is facing Julie Anderson, a nonpartisan who has served as Pierce County’s auditor since 2009. A write-in candidate, Brad Klippert, is hoping to garner some support from Republicans after the party failed to get a candidate through the primary election.

Hobbs and Anderson have touted their experience as being the best for the job. Anderson has worked in elections administration since 2009 and says the office should be nonpartisan to keep elections away from politics. Hobbs, a former state senator, has served in the U.S. Army and the National Guard for 30 years. Despite no prior elections administration experience prior to the his appointment, Hobbs has said the job of secretary of state is now more focused on leadership and cybersecurity, in which he does have experience.

The race has drawn attacks on both sides with Anderson releasing ads criticizing Hobbs for voting against progressives during his time in the Legislature and the state Democratic Party attempting to paint Anderson more conservative than she is.

Clayton called the secretary of state race “fascinating” because of the nonpartisan versus Democrat dynamic. He said Anderson has played to the concerns about elections and made an argument that there should be a nonpartisan running them.

Local races

Locally, there’s a number of races to watch.

Two Republicans are hoping to replace long-term Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich in the race for county sheriff. Current Undersheriff John Nowels, who’s served in the sheriff’s office for 24 years, faces Wade Nelson, who has worked in the sheriff’s office for 21 years.

In the Spokane County Auditor’s race, incumbent Democrat Vicky Dalton faces Republican Bob McCaslin, former state legislator, who has supported efforts to audit the 2020 election for fraud. Open Democracy, a national super PAC, has even joined in on spending, supporting Dalton’s re-election.

In the race for county prosecutor, incumbent Larry Haskell faces challenger Deb Conklin. Haskell has touted his experience as prosecutor and said he wants to fight “lawlessness” if elected. Conklin has also pointed to her experience in leadership as important for the role and said she would push for reforms and transparency if elected.

For the first time, voters are selecting members of a five-member county commission. Two newcomers – Republican Kim Plese and Democrat Chris Jordan – are vying for the seat in District 1.

In District 2, Michael Cathcart, a current member of the Spokane City Council, is facing Amber Waldref, a former member of the Spokane City Council.

Political newcomer Wild Bill Schreiner is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Josh Kerns in District 3. Republican incumbent Mary Kuney is facing Republican newcomer Paul Brian Noble in District 4. In District 5, Democrat Maggie Yates is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Al French.

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A number of other Congressional seats are up in Washington and could prove to be battlegrounds for the rest of the country.

In central Washington’s 4th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Dan Newhouse is trying to keep his seat in the state’s most conservative district, facing Democrat Doug White. Newhouse could be the only Republican in the country who voted for Trump’s impeachment to win re-election.

Another Washington congresswoman who voted to impeach Trump, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, failed to make it through the primary.

The fight for her seat in the 3rd Congressional District has become one of the most competitive this election cycle in Washington with far-right candidate Joe Kent up against Democrat and small business owner Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. Kent has repeatedly said the 2020 election was filled with fraud.

Clayton said the 3rd Congressional District could be a signal for the rest of the country as to whether there are any moderate Republicans left that would defect from far-right candidates and vote for a Democrat.

In Eastern Washington, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who’s running for a 10th term, faces Democrat Natasha Hill.

Laurel Demkovich'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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