Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mid-term elections put both parties to the test

Deb Conklin, on left, and incumbent Larry Haskell, candidates for Spokane County prosecutor, debate during the Northwest Passages Pints and Politics Candidate Forum on Oct. 6 at the Bing Theater. Spokesman-Review reporter Emma Epperly moderated the debate.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Camden For The Spokesman-Review

Mid-term elections, like mid-term exams, are a time to find out whether things are going well or changes need to be made. This year, however, candidates on the ballot seem to be offering different answers as voters put them to the test.

With inflation at 40-year highs and gasoline prices hitting records, Republicans hope voters grade them higher on economics. Nationally, they may also have history on their side because the party of the incumbent president almost always loses seats in Congress in the middle of his term.

After the controversial Supreme Court decision that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, Democrats are hoping voters will grade them higher on promises to protect a woman’s right to choose an abortion. If the economy comes up, they hope voters will give them credit for low unemployment and higher wages, albeit raises that may not be keeping up with inflation.

If the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol is part of that mid-term exam, the two parties may have very different answers. Many Republicans remain convinced that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election and remain skeptical that elections are run fairly. Democrats see the riot as an attack on the nation’s core democratic values and worry that voters in some states are passing laws to keep some voters away from the polls.

The two parties might also have different answers to any question about crime. Republicans point to rising crime rates in many cities – although the statistics are mixed in the latest FBI report – and harken back to calls by some Democrats to “defund the police.” Democrats would say they are the ones who support law enforcement, backing Capitol police over rioters and the FBI over Trump in the recent seizure of documents from the former president’s Florida home.

In Washington, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat first elected in 1992, faces first-time candidate Tiffany Smiley, a Republican who has been active in fighting for veterans rights. Their race follows the national trends, with Smiley tying Murray to fellow Democrat Joe Biden and blaming both for the high cost of gas and groceries.

Murray and her allies emphasize her long-time support for abortion rights, which Washington legalized even before Roe, playing a clip of Smiley interview in which she says she’s “100% pro-life” and suggesting that Smiley could tip the evenly divided Senate into GOP hands, make Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell its leader and usher in an attempt at a nationwide abortion ban.

A neutral observer might note that inflation is mainly outside the control of the president, with high demand for goods facing COVID-enhanced problems with supply. Bills Congress passed boosted spending in some areas but also tried to limit spending in others, such as on drug costs for Medicare recipients.

A new GOP majority in Congress couldn’t pass an abortion ban that could withstand a presidential veto, although a Republican Senate could block any Supreme Court appointment if an opening occurs in the next two years.

Murray finished August’s top two primary with more than half the votes cast in an 18-candidate field and has led in all polls, although conservative pundits have lately been more upbeat about Smiley’s chances for an upset.

All 10 U.S. House seats in Washington are up for election, with incumbents on the ballot in nine of them. Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District is a mirror of the Senate race in one respect, with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican first elected in 2004, facing first-time candidate Natasha Hill, a Democrat who is an attorney and a community activist.

McMorris Rodgers is running as an experienced lawmaker who has delivered for her district, promising to expand the nation’s energy resources. Hill is characterizing the incumbent as out of touch and promising to help struggling families while fighting extremism and partisanship.

Like most of the state’s congressional incumbents, McMorris Rodgers easily topped the August primary. Seatmate Jamie Herrera Beutler in southwest Washington’s 3rd District was eliminated in the top-two primary so that seat may be a close race between Democrat Maria Gluesenkamp Perez, who finished first, and Republican Joe Kent, who passed Herrera Beutler in the late vote count.

In central Washington, Rep. Dan Newhouse, who like Herrera Beutler voted to impeach Donald Trump, survived a challenge from six other Republicans and faces Democrat Doug White in what’s normally a solid GOP district.

Washington, like the nation as a whole, is halfway through its chief executive’s term, although for Democrat Jay Inslee, it’s his third. Along with three uncontested races for state Supreme Court justices, Washington does have a contested race for secretary of state to fill the position vacated by Republican Kim Wyman who resigned in the middle of her term to take a job with the Biden Administration on election security.

Former state Sen. Steve Hobbs, a Democrat, was appointed to the seat by Inslee and faces a challenge by Julie Anderson, a former county auditor running as an independent.

Half the state Senate and the entire state House of Representatives are up for election, but unlike the closely divided U.S. Congress, both houses of the Legislature have comfortable Democratic majorities and the newly drawn lines in the latest redistricting make that unlikely to change.

Washington Republicans are hoping to chip away at that margin, however, by highlighting problems with homelessness in the cities, increases in crime that some law enforcement officials blame on new police reform laws, and Gov. Jay Inslee’s long-lasting emergency rules to curb the COVID 19 epidemic. Democrats are touting efforts to improve mental health services, increase affordable housing and protect the environment.

About half the legislative races on Spokane County ballots are uncontested. In central Spokane’s 3rd District, a pair of first-time candidates, Republicans Natalie Poulson and Scotty Nicol, will try to oust Democratic veterans Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli.

Voters In the 4th District, which includes the Spokane Valley, will choose between labor leader Ted Cummings, a Democrat, and Associated Builders and Contractors President Suzanne Schmidt, a Republican, to fill an empty seat. Two Republicans, Rep. Rob Chase and former Rep. Leonard Christian, vie for the other seat, a situation made possible by the state’s non-partisan primary system.

Two-term Rep. Virginia Graham, a Republican, faces Michaela Kelso, an Army retiree pursing degrees at Spokane Community College in the 6th District, which covers parts of the city of Spokane’ south and northwest precincts as well as much of the West Plains. Three-term Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber faces fellow Republican Lonny Ray Williams, a first-time candidate who served as an Environmental Protection Agency official in the George W. Bush administration, in the 7th District, which includes parts of north Spokane County in the sprawling northeastern Washington district.

All Spokane County executive positions are on the ballot, including the full slate of the expanded board of commissioners, which goes from three to five members next year. All three incumbents are all seeking seats on the new board but will run in their new districts rather than county-wide in the general election.

Auditor Vicky Dalton, the county’s only elected Democrat, faces state Rep. Bob McCaslin, a Republican, for the position that includes the oversight of Spokane’s elections. Prosecuting Attorney Larry Haskell is running against first-time candidate Deb Conklin, running as an independent. A pair of Republicans, John Nowels and Wade Nelson, are competing to replace Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who is retiring.

Jim Camden can be reached at or (509) 879-7461.