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Six takeaways from election night in Washington: Patty Murray cruises, Joe Kent bets on late surge

By David Gutman, The Seattle Times
Published: November 11, 2022, 9:47am

SEATTLE — There are hundreds of thousands of votes left to count in Washington, where workers are processing ballots and mailed ballots are arriving at election centers.

But with more than half of votes tallied, we can say a few things with some certainty. Sen. Patty Murray’s purported vulnerability was overblown. Washington’s congressional delegation could either gain a Democrat, gain a Republican or break even. And Democrats will almost certainly continue to control both branches of the state Legislature, potentially even growing their margins.

Patty Murray cruises to a sixth term

Sitting with supporters at a campaign event in an Indian grocery store on the Eastside last week, Murray sighed.

“It’s a challenge to get through these elections,” she said, over chai and samosas. She sounded confident, but tired.

The airwaves were flooded with attack ads fueled by more money than has ever been spent on a congressional election in Washington. A string of GOP-funded or affiliated polls showed Murray’s lead over Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley in the low single digits. State and national Republicans were giddy at a possible chance of knocking off the Senate’s third-most senior Democrat.

But on election night, Murray was dominant. She ran up massive margins in the Puget Sound region, overwhelming Smiley’s support east of the Cascades. The Associated Press called the race for Murray about an hour after the 8 p.m. ballot deadline.

Smiley finished her campaign on a statewide bus tour, hitting 28 of the state’s 39 counties. Murray campaigned, not exclusively but primarily, in vote-rich King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

She pressed her record on abortion rights and expanding access to affordable health care and she cast Republicans, in the wake of the Jan. 6 attacks, as a threat to democracy. Smiley’s attacks, primarily on crime and inflation, didn’t sway enough voters.

The results leave Murray, a D.C. power broker after 30 years in the Senate, poised to wield even more influence. She will remain the third-ranking Democrat. She will be the fourth most senior member of either party. And, if Democrats retain control of the Senate, she will likely chair the powerful Appropriations Committee, in a position to steer massive federal dollars toward Washington.

Joe Kent trails, but isn’t out

Washington’s 3rd Congressional District could be a surprise pickup for Democrats if Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’s lead over Trump-endorsed candidate Joe Kent holds.

But that’s a very big if given how many votes remain to be counted.

That the race is even close is an indication of Kent’s unapologetic Trumpist rhetoric and extremist ties, which led some Republicans to cross over to support Gluesenkamp Perez.

Kent ran as a full-on MAGA Republican, ousting Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the primary and vowing to side with a far-right GOP caucus, including figures like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Paul Gosar of Arizona.

He called his primary win proof that the 3rd District was “not just Republican, not just conservative” but “deep-red MAGA country.”

That’s not accurate. The 3rd district is definitely Republican-leaning, but it’s far from the type of deep-red Trump districts that sent Greene and Gosar to Congress.

In the 3rd District, Trump won 51% of the vote in 2020. In Greene’s Georgia district, Trump won 68%. In Gaetz’s Florida district, Trump won 65%. And in Gosar’s Arizona district, Trump took 62%. All three incumbents were easily reelected Tuesday.

Kent very well may join them in Congress. He trails Gluesenkamp Perez by 11,123 votes. In the August primary, he benefitted from a late surge of Republicans voting on Election Day, pushing him past Herrera Beutler, who’d led him on election night.

“The race is far from over,” Kent tweeted late Tuesday, saying there are 130,000 votes left to count. “Keep your powder dry & make sure your ballot is accepted.”

Gluesenkamp Perez was not declaring victory, acknowledging the race will be settled in later vote counts. “It’ll take a few days to know the result, but we already know this: democracy and working families are always worth fighting for,” she tweeted.

Democrats look to expand legislative majorities

Democrats took full control of the Legislature in 2017 and have only increased their leads since. They’ve used the power to pass a slew of long-held priorities, including a capital-gains tax, paid family leave, carbon cap and clean fuel legislation and police reform.

Republicans went into Tuesday’s election eager and hopeful of capitalizing on what they saw as Democratic overreach. They thought they could, if not retake either the House or Senate, at least shrink Democratic leads, making an ambitious progressive agenda much trickier.

Many votes remain to be counted, but it looks like the opposite may happen.

Democrats led in most of the key legislative races Tuesday night and could be in position to expand their governing majorities. Democrats currently hold a 28-21 Senate majority and a 57-41 lead in the House.

If Tuesday night’s results hold, a big if, Democrats would pick up a seat in the Senate and three House seats in the House, a party spokesperson said.

The most expensive legislative race in the state was the 26th District, which includes Bremerton, Port Orchard and Gig Harbor. Democratic incumbent Sen. Emily Randall led Republican challenger Rep. Jesse Young with about 53% of the vote in their Senate race.

In three closely watched races in Whatcom County — two House seats and a Senate seat — Democrats led all three, by between 2 and 4 percentage points.

Democrats led a hotly contested state Senate race based in Kent, as Republicans continue to struggle to maintain even a toehold in King County.

Secretary of state race tight

News was no better for Republicans in the one statewide office they’ve been able to hold onto in recent years. No Republican candidate qualified for the general election in the secretary of state race, where incumbent Democrat Steve Hobbs beat Julie Anderson, the nonpartisan Pierce County auditor.

The state Republican Party mounted a write-in campaign for state Rep. Brad Klippert, a Republican from Kennewick who wants to ban mail voting and who has falsely claimed widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

Not only does Klippert have no chance at winning — write-ins were just 3.1% of the vote on election night, but his candidacy could throw the seat to the Democrats, by poaching votes that may have gone to Anderson.

Legislature loses election deniers

Speaking of Klippert, he’s one of three election-denying Republican legislators who will no longer be serving in Olympia.

Klippert, along with state Reps. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, and Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, last year traveled on the public dime to South Dakota to attend an election conspiracy conference hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

Next year, it appears they’ll be out of the Legislature. Klippert and Kraft gave up their legislative seats to make unsuccessful runs for congressional seats.

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Sutherland, who urged followers to “prepare for war” after Trump lost in 2020, and said it would be “righteous” if Trump used the military to stay in power, appeared to be losing badly to Republican challenger Sam Low.

Low, a Snohomish County Council member, had 55% of the vote on Tuesday, to Sutherland’s 41%.