Jul 28, 2022 - Politics

Democrats fight to defend the suburbs

Illustration of picket fence with I Voted stickers.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

In 2018, a blue wave cleared out nearly all the remaining Republicans in Seattle's suburbs.

  • Now, Democrats are fighting to hold onto some of the gains they made in suburban King County during the Trump era.

Why it matters: Next week's primary election will serve as an early test of whether Democrats' messaging still resonates with suburban King County voters, or if the party's 2018 gains were just temporary.

Zoom in: For now, some of the toughest election battlegrounds in the state are just outside Seattle.

  • In the 47th Legislative District, the retirements of state House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) and state Sen. Mona Das (D-Kent) have opened two sought-after seats.
  • The 30th Legislative District, which includes Federal Way, is home to two crowded state House races and a high-profile state Senate race.
  • Meanwhile, in Washington's most competitive federal race, Democratic U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier is defending her seat in the 8th Congressional District, which includes East King County.
  • Schrier's 2018 win turned that seat blue for the first time.

What they're saying: In a June interview with Axios, Michael Charles, a Democratic political consultant, called the Kent-based 47th district "a bellwether for the rest of the country."

  • Earlier this month, King County GOP chair Mathew Patrick Thomas made a similar comment to The Seattle Times.
  • "The fact that we lost a bunch of seats in suburban areas in Trump's off-year election should surprise nobody," state House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox told Axios last week. "The fact that we are going to be super competitive there in a Biden midterm year shouldn't either."

Between the lines: The South King County legislative races reflect the suburbs' growing racial diversity.

  • In the 47th Senate race, former state Sen. Claudia Kauffman and Kent City Council member Satwinder Kaur — both Democrats and women of color — are up against Republican Bill Boyce, a Kent City Council member who is Black.
  • Similarly, in the race to replace Sullivan, the top three fundraisers are people of color: Democrats Chris Stearns and Shukri Olow, as well as Republican Carmen Goers.
  • "The racial dynamics of that race are really interesting," Olgy Diaz, president of the National Women's Political Caucus of Washington, told Axios.
  • The candidates running in the Federal Way area House races are predominantly people of color, too.

What we're watching: Charles said that as Republicans have become less synonymous with Trump, "it feels they are starting to gain traction in the suburbs."

  • "Dinner table issues have become front and center again, more than they were before — things like the cost of services and goods," he said.

What's next: Tuesday's primary will decide which two candidates in each race move onto the general election.

  • Democrats will be examining the share of the vote they get in the primary as a way of gauging their prospects heading into November.
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