In Washington state legislative races, Republicans have a lot of ground to make up after last week's primary election if they are to avoid a bloodbath in November.
Immediately after last week’s primary election, local Republicans seemed reluctant to concede they just got hit by a giant Democratic wave.
State House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, predicted later vote counts would trend toward Republicans, while state GOP Chairman Caleb Heimlich downplayed the results.
So far, all signs suggest Republican President Donald Trump is dragging down local members of his party to a huge degree — more than any president in decades.
Unless things change, Democrats could be looking at gains in the state Legislature unlike anything seen since the Republican wave of 1994. This could remain the case even if some of the close legislative races end up breaking toward Republicans in November.
As of Tuesday evening, Republicans were falling behind Democrats in races for 13 state House seats they currently control, while GOP incumbents also lagged in two state Senate races.
In five other races for GOP-controlled state House seats, Republicans were polling 2.5 percentage points or less above Democrats, suggesting those races could easily go either way. Democrats looked as if they could also prevail in two other tight contests for open state Senate seats that Republicans currently hold.
Meanwhile, no legislative seats held by Democrats appeared to be even remotely in jeopardy.
For local Republicans, this math looks unusually catastrophic.
Midterm elections like 2018 often turn into referendums on the sitting president, and those effects can reverberate far down the ticket. During the 1994 midterms — held two years into the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton — the GOP gained 29 seats in Washington’s state House, and also picked up three state Senate seats.
In more recent midterms, however, the partisan swings have produced more modest local effects, especially in the state House.
In 2010, two years into Democratic President Barack Obama’s first term, Republicans gained four state Senate seats and only five state House seats.
Then, halfway through Obama’s second term in 2014, the GOP picked up one state Senate seat and four state House seats.
Democrats, meanwhile, made notable gains midway through President George W. Bush’s second term, picking up seven state House seats and six Senate seats in 2006.
Given this history, the midterm energy in 2018 seems to be bolstering state-level Democrats even more than normal, as candidates and party leaders alike frame the election as a rebuke on Trump and his party.
Trump has long been unpopular in Washington state, winning only 38 percent of the vote statewide and less than 22 percent in King County in 2016.
Now, two years later, the prospect of Democrats gaining anywhere between 13 and 18 state House seats in November is not entirely outside the realm of possibility. Most likely, Democrats will also turn at least two state Senate seats blue.
Just how remarkable would that be? Well, the last time Democrats gained more than 10 seats in the state House in a single year, it was 1982, and Ronald Reagan was president.
Even Democrats claiming eight additional seats would be a rare feat, according to records kept by the House.
Democrats claiming even a portion of the House seats now up for grabs could give the Legislature the ability to pass a carbon tax in the 2019 session, as well as clear a path for other Democratic priorities such as gun-control measures and state-level environmental reforms.
To stand a chance, Republican candidates will need to do whatever they can between now and November to distance themselves from the president and politics in Washington, D.C. That will include meeting voters face to face often and stressing how local Republicans’ priorities differ from the president’s.
Democrats, meanwhile, need to stay vigilant and not rest on their primary-election night laurels. They’ll still have to campaign hard to win these seats, especially now that the primary has delivered a wake-up call to the local GOP.
Republicans may have been slow to admit it at first. But this year’s primary numbers appear to add up to a big, blue wave coming for the GOP in November.
The question now is whether Democrats will continue to hold onto this momentum, or if Republicans will find a way to reverse the trend.