A proposed new 10th Congressional District centers on Democratic-leaning Olympia while a redrawn 1st Congressional District could change from a safe Democratic haven into a swing seat.
Washington’s closely watched new 10th Congressional District will be centered around Democratic-leaning Olympia under a deal announced Wednesday by the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission.
But the hottest 2012 congressional race may be shaping up north of Seattle, in a redrawn 1st Congressional District that will morph from a safe Democratic haven into a swing seat under the revised political map.
Several notable Democrats already had announced plans to run for the 1st District seat being vacated after a decade by Democrat Jay Inslee, who is running for governor.
The new map immediately drew in a prominent Republican contender, Snohomish County Councilman John Koster, who narrowly lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen last year.
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“I’m liking the congressional maps. I think it’s very good for us,” Koster said.
The new map puts Koster’s rural Arlington-area home in the 1st District, clearing his run for the open seat instead of another showdown with the incumbent Larsen.
It also includes the home of Democrat Darcy Burner, who lost two previous races in the 8th District. Dean Nielsen, Burner’s campaign chairman, said their campaign’s initial analysis showed the reconfigured district went comfortably for President Obama in 2008.
But others think the newly drawn 1st District will be closely politically divided, pairing the dense suburbs of Redmond, Kirkland and Bothell with wide swaths of rural Snohomish, Whatcom and Skagit counties.
“It may easily be the most evenly divided congressional district in the United States of America,” said former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, the Republican who negotiated the congressional maps with Democrat Tim Ceis, the former Seattle deputy mayor.
Ceis agreed the 1st District would be competitive. But he thinks Democrats, who have long held the majority of the state’s congressional seats, will retain an advantage in both the 1st and 10th districts.
Under the plan announced Wednesday, Washington’s 2012 political landscape will also see the creation of its first congressional district where racial minorities make up a majority of the population.
That will happen by reshaping the 9th Congressional District, now represented by Democrat Adam Smith. The district will still include the north end of Tacoma, where Smith lives, but will now stretch north to include southeast Seattle, Renton, Bellevue and Mercer Island. It will be 50.33 percent minority.
In a statement, Smith said he was “very pleased” his new district included his hometown of SeaTac and areas he’d represented earlier as a state senator. “I’m excited to run in this very diverse district,” he said.
But there were already indications Smith may not get an incumbent’s usual free ride next year, even from groups that usually support Democrats.
“The elected representative of this congressional district must fight to win our support by paying attention to the issues of our marginalized communities,” Nate Miles, of the United for Fair Representation coalition, composed of several civil-rights organizations, said in a statement.
With just a few days to go before the Jan. 1 deadline to finish its work, the four-member panel appeared at peace on the congressional maps. They noted the new maps will reduce the number of cities divided between multiple districts, from 23 now, down to just five.
But a flap over Hispanic representation in a couple of Eastern Washington legislative districts threatened to derail the whole process Wednesday.
Dean Foster, the Democrat who had been negotiating the new state Legislature map with Republican Tom Huff, declared at Wednesday’s commission meeting that the two were at an impasse and needed to bring the other commissioners into the talks.
Democrats said they were pushing for at least one legislative district in Eastern Washington with a substantial majority of Latinos, who have been politically underrepresented.
Huff said he had no problem with that and pointed to maps of a Yakima-area district he’d agreed to with a majority Latino population.
But he said Foster “kept moving the Hispanic figure around” and seemed to want to air the dispute in public as an act of political theater.
Despite the flap, both sides said they were hopeful an agreement could be reached by the deadline. At least three of the four voting commissioners must OK the new maps. If they fail, the task falls to the state Supreme Court.
Apart from the two open seats, the redistricting commission mostly followed the custom of incumbent protection when it drew the congressional maps.
For example, Republican Dave Reichert’s 8th District would grow more conservative under the plan. The 8th would lose part of its urban core and cross the mountains to encompass Chelan and Kittitas counties.
Democrat Rick Larsen’s 2nd District, meanwhile, would cede the vast rural reaches of Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties, becoming a more coastal, liberal district.
And freshman Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler will benefit from the new 10th District, which will take away the Democrat-heavy communities around Olympia, leaving Herrera-Beutler’s 3rd District as a more Republican territory.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.