Nov 7, 2022 - Politics

Big money pours into Washington state's swing districts

Photo illustration of Emily Randall, Jesse Young, Sharon Shewmake, and Simon Sefzik.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: State Democrats, House Republicans, courtesy of Shewmake's and Sefzik's campaigns.

The final receipts aren't in yet, but two 2022 state Senate matchups are already among Washington's costliest state legislative races ever.

Driving the news: The Senate race in Washington's 26th Legislative District — which includes Gig Harbor, Port Orchard and part of Bremerton — has attracted more than $4.4 million in spending from the candidates' campaigns and outside groups.

  • Meanwhile, a contest in the 42nd legislative district in Whatcom County has drawn more than $1.8 million in outside spending, on top of about $1.4 million spent by the candidates so far.
  • Those numbers are enough to make them among the top five most expensive legislative races in state history — even without taking last-minute expenditures before the Nov. 8 election into account.

The big picture: Democrats, who have solid majorities in Washington's House and Senate, are in little danger of losing control of the Legislature this year. But they want to ensure that Republicans don't make inroads that could put Democratic control at risk in upcoming election cycles.

  • GOP leaders, meanwhile, want to cut into Democrats' majorities to make it harder for them to pass sweeping policies, while also trying to set Republicans up for a future takeover.

Zoom in: In the 26th District, state Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton) is defending her seat against state Rep. Jesse Young (R-Gig Harbor).

  • Meanwhile, up north in Whatcom County's 42nd District, state Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham) is taking on GOP state Sen. Simon Sefzik (R-Ferndale), who was appointed this year to replace former Sen. Doug Ericksen.
  • In both races, economic issues — including disagreements about tax policy — have become a focus, along with the candidates' opposing stances on criminal justice reforms and abortion rights.

State of play: The 42nd and the 26th are among a dwindling number of state legislative districts where both Republicans and Democrats currently hold office.

  • In 2018, Randall won her seat by about 100 votes, while Ericksen eked out his win by fewer than 50 votes.

What they're saying: Republicans in Washington had been optimistic about a red wave and their ability to flip one of the state's legislative chambers — but they severely underperformed in the primary, making that outcome less likely, pollster Stuart Elway told Axios on Friday.

Yes, but: In recent weeks, Republican prospects appear to have rebounded nationwide — and state GOP leaders plan to seize on that momentum.

  • "When you have a wave you have to take advantage of it," House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox told Axios Friday, adding that Republicans will try to "gain as many seats as possible."

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