WA-Legislature: Pres-by-LD

One happy result of our crowdsourcing presidential results-by-congressional district project is that it pointed our way to a spreadsheet put together by Benjamin Johnstone-Anderson, not an SSPer that I know of, but clearly an elections geek of the highest order. This spreadsheet covers the entire state of Washington at the precinct level (not just in split counties), and it’s designed to give results not just by congressional district, but also by municipality and legislative district.

The nice thing about this kind of spreadsheet is that it lets us do the same sort of analysis at the state level that we at SSP are fond of doing at the national level. By calculating a half-assed sort of PVI (based only on 2008 numbers) and arranging LDs from most to least Democratic, we can form a picture of who the most vulnerable legislators of each party are, much more precisely than just by looking at county-level data. (In most states you can at least look at party registration numbers to measure districts, but there’s no registration by party in Washington.) This would be a fantastic resource to have for as many states as possible, and I’d like to encourage other SSPers to perform and post the same sort of analysis for their states (if the necessary information can be found).

District Where 2008 % “PVI” Sen. Rep. 1 Rep.2
43 Univ. District 88.8/9.6 D+37 D (2010) D D
37 S. Seattle 86.1/12.6 D+34 D (2010) D D
36 Ballard 83.8/14.8 D+31 D (2010) D D
46 N. Seattle 82.6/15.9 D+30 D (2010) D D
34 W. Seattle 77.6/20.8 D+25 D (2012) D D
11 Renton 71.0/27.3 D+19 D (2012) D D
32 Shoreline 69.9/28.6 D+17 D (2010) D D
27 Tacoma 67.6/30.6 D+15 D (2012) D D
22 Olympia 64.7/33.4 D+12 D (2012) D D
29 Parkland 64.3/33.6 D+12 D (2010) D D
21 Lynnwood 64.1/34.2 D+12 D (2010) D D
33 Des Moines 63.6/34.7 D+11 D (2010) D D
48 Bellevue 63.5/35.0 D+11 D (2010) D D
41 Mercer I. 63.6/35.1 D+11 D (2012) D D
40 Mt. Vernon 62.9/35.3 D+10 D (2012) D D
38 Everett 61.3/36.3 D+9 D (2010) D D
1 Bothell 61.2/37.0 D+9 D (2012) D D
3 Spokane 60.0/36.9 D+8 D (2012) D D
45 Redmond 60.8/37.7 D+8 D (2010) D D
49 Vancouver 59.7/38.4 D+7 D (2012) D D
30 Federal Way 59.0/39.4 D+6 D (2010) D R
23 Bainbridge I. 58.7/39.5 D+6 D (2012) D D
5 Sammamish 57.5/41.1 D+5 R (2012) R R
19 Longview 56.6/40.9 D+4 D (2012) D D
24 Port Angeles 56.0/41.8 D+4 D (2012) D D
44 Snohomish 56.0/42.2 D+3 D (2010) D R
47 Auburn 55.8/42.6 D+3 D (2010) D D
28 Lakewood 55.6/42.8 D+3 R (2012) D D
42 Bellingham 53.8/44.2 D+1 R (2010) R D
35 Shelton 52.8/45.1 D+0 D (2010) D D
17 Orchards 52.0/46.3 R+1 R (2012) D D
39 Monroe 51.6/46.1 R+1 R (2012) R R
25 Puyallup 51.8/46.5 R+1 D (2012) R D
10 Oak Harbor 51.7/46.5 R+1 D (2012) R R
26 Port Orchard 51.1/46.9 R+1 D (2010) R D
31 Enumclaw 50.2/47.9 R+2 R (2010) R D
15 Sunnyside 49.7/48.4 R+3 R (2010) R R
6 Country Homes 49.6/48.5 R+3 D (2010) R D
2 Orting 47.9/50.1 R+5 R (2012) R R
18 Battle Ground 46.6/51.6 R+6 R (2012) R R
20 Centralia 45.4/52.5 R+7 R (2012) R R
9 Pullman 43.1/54.7 R+10 R (2012) R R
12 Wenatchee 42.8/55.3 R+10 R (2012) R R
4 Spokane Valley 42.3/55.1 R+10 R (2012) R R
14 Yakima 42.7/55.6 R+10 R (2012) R R
16 Walla Walla 38.6/59.6 R+14 R (2012) R D
7 Colville 38.1/58.9 R+14 R (2010) R R
13 Ellensburg 38.1/59.7 R+15 R (2010) R R
8 Kennewick 36.6/61.6 R+16 R (2010) R R

Analysis over the flip…

We can see that only about one-third of these districts are what you’d think of as being competitive (let’s say a “PVI” between D+5 and R+5)… and there are almost no legislators of the wrong party in uncompetitive seats. There’s only one Republican representative in a seat better than D+5, and one Democratic representative in a seat worse than R+5. This points to a big built-in structural advantage for Democrats in Washington; there are 23 (out of 49) districts greater than D+5, so they barely need to rely on swing territory at all to maintain control of the legislature.

The good news is, as much as the Democrats are in a position of strength in the legislature (near the 2/3s mark in each chamber), there’s still room to expand and not much defense to play. There are 7 Republican senators (out of 49) and 14 Republican representatives (out of 98) in districts won by Obama, while there are no Democratic senators and 1 Democratic representative in districts won by McCain.

In fact, the one Democratic senator who lost in 2008, Marilyn Rasmussen in the 2nd LD, would have been the only Democratic senator in a McCain district had she not lost in an upset. The top-of-the-ticket data goes a long way to explaining her loss; the 2nd is an growing exurban area in rural Pierce County with a lot of growth, so there’s an influx of new voters unfamiliar with Rasmussen’s long tenure in the district and thus not likely to ticket-split. This is also the same part of WA-08 that, both times, basically gave Dave Reichert his victory margin over Darcy Burner, and it seems to be one of the only areas in the state that is going in the wrong direction.

Unfortunately, the Democrats missed the opportunity in 2008 to take out the two most vulnerable GOP senators according to this table, Cheryl Pflug in the 5th and Mike Carrell in the 28th; they’re safe till 2012. (They also lost what was considered to be the most hotly contested senate race, a little further down the table. Don Benton in the 17th survived by only a few hundred votes.)

The most theoretically vulnerable GOP senator up in 2010 is Dale Brandland in the Bellingham-based 42nd; however in practice, two other senators slightly lower on the list, Pam Roach in the 31st and Jim Honeyford in the 15th, are likelier to be vulnerable (Honeyford because he represents Washington’s second-least-white district, with fast-growing Latino and Native populations but a mostly Anglo electorate, meaning that victory is possible with a larger minority turnout… and Roach simply because her sheer Jean Schmidt-style odiousness makes her a perpetual target).

Democrats will also be defending two senate freshmen in 2010 in districts that have an R+ PVI (although that Obama won): Derek Kilmer in the 26th and Chris Marr in the 6th. These are the two districts where the GOP picked up Democratic-held open House seats, so these races will bear watching.

The above-mentioned 5th may also be the best place to pick off some GOP representatives: Jay Rodne and Glenn Anderson. (One rep, Skip Priest in the 30th in the blue-collar suburbs of Federal Way, clocks in higher, but he’s pretty well-entrenched and certainly the most moderate Republican left in the House.) I’m wondering why the 5th (the furthest-out reaches of the affluent Eastside suburbs plus rural eastern King County) has never been heavily targeted; without seeing 2004 data, my guess is that it’s never voted anywhere near this heavily Democratic before. Even the nearby 41st and 48th had a mostly Republican legislative bench until a few years ago and probably didn’t go for Gore or Kerry by 25-point margins; this just seems to be the last district on the Eastside to fall into the Democratic column. We just need to show up to compete, preferably with some good candidates (like a certain netroots heroine with kickass fundraising skills?).

In the 2008 election, the Dems lost one Senate seat to drop back to a 31-18 lead. In the House, the Dems flipped two seats and the GOP flipped three, so the composition moved to a 62-36 edge and GOP each flipped two seats, for a wash, so the composition stayed at 63-35 edge. Dems need to gain 2 seats in the Senate and 4 3 in the House to make it over the magic 2/3s mark (although hopefully they won’t need to override Chris Gregoire on anything, but she won’t be around forever). Doable? Tough, but possibly so.

28 thoughts on “WA-Legislature: Pres-by-LD”

  1. but are you using national PVI or state PVI? I’m not a fan of PVI but I guess it’s a conservative tool to avoid overly ambitious or unnecessarily pessimistic political scenarios. Also, can you explain for us non-WA types, how two state reps represent the same district? Tks

  2. I wish it would be easy to figure out for other states.

    I think it’s funny that Dems win down the line, but Republicans top off pretty quickly. I think that tells you about their national profile.  

  3. Many things come to mind to contribute but I’ll start with these four:

    –Democrats in Washington really are playing in even the toughest districts.  The 8th LD (Tri-Cities) is the most Republican in the state but we ran a very strong candidate there, Carol Moser, a former state Transportation Commissioner, had lots of money from statewide Ds pumped in, and she only lost by 5 percent.

    –Sen. Pam Roach is certifiably insane.  She’s currently running for King County Elections Director (a newly created position) and will almost certainly lose despite her strong name recognition as it appears that the Republican vote will be split between her and former County Councilmember David Irons.  I don’t think it generates goodwill in her district that she is constantly trying to get a higher-paying position (while keeping her Senate seat, which she is allowed to do and intends to do).  She is expected not to run for reelection in 2010, however, enabling her son, Rep. Dan Roach, to run for her seat.

    –Darcy Burner doesn’t live in the 5th LD, she lives in the 48th.  Of course, her house burned down, so maybe she’ll move.

    –Had no idea the 15th was so competitive.  Never have thought of it as a battleground district.

  4. Stands out like a sore thumb.  It is D+5 with a Republican state senator and two R state legislators.  Open Left sent one of their front pagers to WA-8 and he had a particularly hard time in this area when he canvassed for Darcy Burner.  The people were blue collar Republicans who were unsophisticated to the point of being mislead.  Sherriff Dave had 20 years “government: experience but was a spectacularly ineffective Congressman precisely because the experience applies to what state and local government do, not what Congress does.  Darcy wanted to fix the war in Iraq but these folks wanted her to run for school board to get experience.  Well, you don’t fix Iraq on the school board.  And school board experience has little to do with most of what Congress does.

    Guess the D+2 of WA-8 is misleading because of these voters.  Thet will vote for a Democrat for President but not for Congress or the state legislature.  Time for a major educational campaign.

  5. Have they been aggressive in winning these races? Or have they grown complacent a la the CA Democratic Party in being in a constant state of ennui? It seems like there were a number of missed opportunities this year. How can we change that in 2010? And is the party willing to take some chances and grow their ranks in Olympia?

  6. I believe a few other states have versions of it but how does it work in WA?  Are there two separate state house elections for each district or just one with the two highest vote getters being elected?  Can’t say I’m a fan of this type of system.

  7. I figured someone would ask that… it’s national PVI (so the base line is Obama’s approximately 53.2% from the Obama/McCain head-to-head). Obama got 57.4% in Washington, so to re-shape it to a state PVI, you’d subtract about 4.

    Basically, in Washington, each legislative district elects one senator every four years and two representatives every two years (they run separately for two different positions, rather than the top two finishers in one race each getting the job). There are a few other states that do it this way, like the Dakotas I believe. Also Nevada, Vermont, and New Hampshire (and maybe a few others), for whatever reason, have a varying number of representatives per legislative district.  

  8. it sounds counterintuitive to call a district R+1 or R+2 just because McCain lost it by a margin lower than his nationwide margin. Obama still won and to me, R+ any thing less than Obama’s winning margin is just weird! Why don’t they say D-1 or D-2 and once you get to a margin where McCain won then you can start R+1? (reverse applies to the 2004 election).

    Who ever came up with the PVI sure seems to be a student of fuzzy math.  

  9. She was appointed to that seat to fill the vacancy left when John Lovick was elected Snohomish County Sheriff, so she had never been elected to it in her own right.  She used to be mayor of Snohomish (city) and made a lot of enemies there.  I figured she’d be fine but am not surprised she lost.

  10. PVI meaures whether a disrict is more or less Democratic or Republican than the national average, not whether a district will vote Democratic or Republican.  On a congressional level, districts with a PVI of R+3 or less were likely to select Democrats to Congress.

    Similarly, states with a small margin for Bush (and districts) in 2004 “earned” a Democratic PVI while electing Republicans because Bush won by 2.5%.

  11. seems to pop up whenever we discuss PVI on this site (as well it should; PVI isn’t some magic be-all-and-end-all). PVI is a measure of distance from the nationwide average, and it’s based on the assumption (mostly correct within a point or two in most places, based on what I’ve seen of 2008 results so far) that Democratic or Republican performance stays constant in relation to the nationwide average. In other words, it’s where a district is located relative to the overall tide, which raises or lowers all boats equally.

    So if you have a place that’s D+5, that suggests that Obama got 58% in 2008 (5 pts. more than his 53% nationwide performance) and Kerry got 53% in 2004 (5 pts. more than his 48% nationwide performance). So the opposite of your scenario happened in 2004, where you had districts that were, say, D+1 but that Bush won anyway, because Kerry got 49% there, 1% more than his 48% overall. Anyway, yeah, it’s an imprecise instrument (compared with actually citing that “it was a 58/41 district in 2008”), but the other front-pagers and I like to use PVI as quick shorthand for what a place’s political lean is.

  12. From attitudes down south. I sometimes had trouble convincing otherwise Democratic voters in Long Beach or Santa Ana (CA-46) to vote for Debbie Cook because “we don’t know her here” or “What does Huntington Beach have to do with me?” Some people don’t like getting out of their comfort zones until there’s no more comfort. That’s what happened in Southern Nevada, where the regional economy is in meltdown & people are desperate for help. And of course, the NV Democratic Party did a hell of a job convincing people to vote Democratic from Obama to Dina Titus (NV-03) to Legislature to County Commission.

    Now isn’t Sammamish, WA, historically a GOP leaning area that’s recently begun to go Democratic on the Presidential level? We have to convince them that Obama can’t get anything done with a hostile Congress. We have to get them used to the habit of voting (D) all the way down the ballot. It may take a while, as it did in New England, but eventually the new generation of voters in the Seattle suburbs will be able to do it.

  13. Issaquah that Matt Stoller was sharing his canvassing experiences from, which is pretty similar to Sammamish, but those are pretty affluent foothills suburbs of mostly 90s era McMansions. These are the people who are historically Republican for financial issues but who tend to be socially tolerant and pro-environment, and who prefer the old-style moderate northwest Republican (which Reichert manages to appear to be). (This group’s turn to the Democrats this cycle, in the face of Republican incompetence and know-nothingism, isn’t limited to this area though; see, say, Chester County, PA, or DuPage County, IL, or nationwide, where the Democrats won the $200,000+ income bracket for the first time, according to exit polls.)

    The blue collar law-and-order part of the district is further south, in rural Pierce County (SE of Tacoma, which is the 2nd LD that I was talking about where the incumbent Dem senator lost), and also rural SE King County (around Enumclaw, which comprises the 31st, home to Pam Roach). Reichert’s success, as I discussed before and after the election, is that he also manages to appeal to these people because of his macho past, while still appealing to the genteel wealthy suburbanites.

  14. They fought hard in the senate race in the 17th. They were aggressive in the 15th, where they had well-funded Latino candidates in the state rep. races for probably the first time. And like lorax said upthread, they even ran a good candidate in the 8th, probably the toughest district in the whole state (the Tri-Cities in eastern Washington, with a Hanford Nuclear Base-based economy) and funded her well.

    Like I said earlier, I think what happened in the 5th is that they were just as surprised as I was at how well Obama did in that LD. Although there’s certainly work to do there in convincing those moderate ticket-splitters in that type district to stop splitting their dang tickets… because those districts in the outer reaches of the suburbs are where the next few seats are going to come from, probably not from eastern Washington. Lorax seems to have his/her finger on the pulse pretty well, so maybe he/she has some more thoughts on the matter.

  15. that growing the Dem ranks in Olympia is not necessarily what it will take to get progressive changes to take place.  Unlike California, we don’t have a 2/3 requirement to pass a budget. (thank god!  what a crazy rule.)  Our Democrats have been in control of Olympia for so long that they are obsessed with maintaining their majorities and not-so-obsessed with bringing forth meaningful economic, social, and environmental legislation.

  16. In our primaries now, the top 2 candidates move on to the General Election, regardless of party.  There were two D vs D house races at the top of this chart, and 1 R vs R house race at the bottom of this chart.

    Yes, 3rd parties are going to be left out a lot.  Just two names.  Period.

    The only one it doesn’t apply for is President.

  17. A number of Southern California areas that I have experience with! Districts like CA-24 (parts of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties), CA-46 (South LA County & West Orange County), & CA-50 (North Coastal San Diego County) are affulent areas that are used to voting for “tax cutting, crime fighting good ol’ Republicans”. But over the years, Senators Dianne Feinstein & Barbara Boxer have begun to win these areas because of environmental matters, reproductive rights, gun safety, etc. And this year, they came around to vote for Barack Obama.

    So now, our next challenge is getting them to start voting (D) for House, state legislature, and local offices. From what I understand, it seems like Issaquah, WA, looks awfully similar politically. Now I know we often talk about running “populists” to win in Red areas in The South & The Rural West. But for these suburban/exurban areas out West, we need to run a different sort of “populists”, Democrats who emphasize quality of life issues, good environmental stewardship, protection of civil liberties, and fiscal responsibility (not necessarily “conservatism”, but frame economic issues in a “responsible” way).

    Am I making sense now?

  18. Thanks for the 411. So the WA Dems will likely fight hard in 2010? Then I can’t wait to see good results!

    Now what will it take to wake up the CA Dems?

  19. That’s the only way we fight.

    However, many of us progressives who are involved in Washington Democratic politics don’t really see an urgent need for us to further expand our majorities.  Sure, it’s possible to do so, particularly when vacancies happen in competitive districts like the 30th, 5th, and 42nd.  But the real need in Washington is not MORE Democratic legislators, it’s BETTER Democratic legislators.  (Sound familiar?)  We already have huge majorities in both houses, but it feels like we are always playing defense, either against Dino Rossi (who Dems in Olympia spent the last 4 years doing everything they could to keep him out of the gov’s mansion) or Tim Eyman (Washington’s tax-cutting initiative king; whenever one of his initiatives is struck down by the Supreme Court, legislators rush into special session to reenact it).

    Many of the Ds representing even strongly Democratic districts are not willing to stand up and fight for progressive values when the going gets tough.  I’d love to see some Donna Edwards-style challenges here in Washington.

  20. in part because so many residents of the area moved up from Orange County and places like it.  In recent years, the migration has come more from Silicon Valley than from Orange County, hence the change in the area’s politics, though generally the further east you go (and Sammamish is the furthest east large city in King County) the more Orange County and the less Silicon Valley it is.  (Dino Rossi is from Sammamish, FYI.)  That’s why you see historically Republican cities like Bellevue, Mercer Island, and Kirkland voting Democratic these days, even for Christine Gregoire.

    The worrying counter-trend is taking place in blue-collar Pierce County (Tacoma and suburbs).  It is the state’s critical swing county and appears to be moving politically in the opposite direction of East King County.

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