It sums up local politics right now that the hottest, most expensive legislative campaign in Washington state doesn’t even have a Republican in it.
The race for state senator out in the 5th Legislative District of the Issaquah area is solely a Democratic fight, a struggle to set the direction of the dominant party around here. It pits a moderate incumbent versus a progressive newcomer from the left. Total spending in the race already has topped $1.1 million — even though both candidates are assured of making it through Tuesday’s primary to the November general election.
The money is pouring in from outside groups. About $400,000 has come from business interests on behalf of the incumbent, Sen. Mark Mullet. Nearly $500,000 for mailings and digital ads has been dropped by the teachers union and other labor groups for the challenger, a nurse at Overlake hospital named Ingrid Anderson.
The race boils down to one core question: Are you progressive enough? Meaning: Are you open to raising taxes to pay more for schools and health care?
Mullet, a business owner and a skeptic of a capital-gains tax, generally has not been. While Anderson vows she would push hard to raise “progressive, alternative revenue.”
Welcome to the future of politics in our increasingly one-party state.
Instead of the old-guard battles between Democrats and Republicans, we’re going to see more D on D fights like this because the Trump-crazy GOP has yielded (or been voted out of) huge swaths of the playing field.
As recently as 2012, the 5th District around Issaquah was all Republican in the Legislature. It was once represented by GOP stalwart Dino Rossi. Now Republicans aren’t even bothering to contest his old Senate seat there.
But the lack of a rival party is also exposing growing fissures within the only team left in town.
These left vs. centrist Democratic fights are happening around the state. On the Olympic Peninsula, the incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer is being challenged most by a Democratic Socialist member of his own party, Rebecca Parson, who labels Kilmer a “squishy corporate Democrat.” Parson has raised three times as much money as all the Republican candidates in that race combined.
Up in the 2nd Congressional District, longtime Dem incumbent Rick Larsen is also being assailed from his left as a bland incrementalist. A Democratic Socialist named Jason Call has used his support of Medicare for All to rack up a slew of endorsements from local Democratic groups.
Or take the 10th Congressional District, around Olympia. All the action there is on the left. Not only have the establishment Democratic candidates outraised the Republican field by 15-1, but there’s a socialist truck driver running under the third-party banner of the Essential Workers Party, Joshua Collins, who has himself outraised the entire GOP slate.
Down the ballot there are a slew of campaigns where young progressives are challenging older, establishment Democrats — and making some headway. State Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, is 68 and touts on his website that “only four people out of the 98 House members have been there longer.” This creates quite a generational contrast with his intraparty opponent, a 30-year-old Mexican-American named Sharlett Mena who supports a capital-gains tax and has the backing of the state’s progressive pack leader, Seattle’s U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal. The Tacoma News Tribune dubbed the race “a collision between Baby Boom and Boomlet.”
Even Frank Chopp, the legendary Seattle state rep and past speaker of the state House, failed to win the endorsement of his own 43rd District Democrats due to yet Democratic challenger coming from the left (Jessi Murray — the district elected not to endorse anyone).
It isn’t clear where this is headed, toward lefty uprising or more status quo. Republicans charge the Democrats are being stormed by the fringe.
“There is no place for moderate politics or voters in today’s radical Democrat party,” state GOP chairman Caleb Heimlich said about the Issaquah Senate race.
Of course that’s also what people were saying when democratic socialist Bernie Sanders won the first Democratic presidential primaries this cycle. But party voters eventually flocked to the overwhelmingly not radical Joe Biden.
There was a brutally one-sided Survey USA poll of our state this past week that showed Trump is underwater to Biden here by 34 points: 62% to 28%. The pollster called it “jaw-dropping” and said these were “the worst re-elect numbers for a Republican candidate in Washington state in 108 years.” So barring some huge shift, the one thing that seems most likely is that Trump’s toxicity is only going to further poison the local GOP.
Which would leave us as more of a one-party state than ever. Can it hold? Maybe the GOP will one day rise again, beyond Trump. Maybe the Democrats will swing further left, or maybe they’ll fracture and we’ll end up with multiple splinter parties. Either way, we’re seeing modern democracy remade before our eyes.