Unfortunately, we didn't make out so well in Washington's bipartisan redistricting process this decade. Democrat Tim Ceis broke a deadlock between Democrats and Republicans on the state's redistricting commission by siding with a Republican proposal in which Democratic-held WA-01 was weakened, Republican-held WA-03 and WA-08 were shored up, and the new WA-10 leans Democratic but is not as secure a seat as many had expected.
We can do better! So I decided to draw a map that I could be proud of if I were a Democratic commissioner, preserving communities of interest while favoring the Democratic Party.
This is the map. It has 10 districts, as it should. As you can see, I've followed city and county lines almost to a T, so I will zoom in on the Seattle area and that's it. Saves me bandwidth, anyway.
WA-01 (blue): OPEN - 59.5% Obama, 38.8% McCain
This seat, formerly held by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee prior to his resignation from Congress, is a lot bluer than its D+2 incarnation under the new map. Most notably, it leaves Everett, Edmonds, and Mukilteo out entirely. It also excludes Carnation, home of netroots heartthrob Darcy Burner, and Medina, home of likely Democratic top-two finisher Suzan DelBene, as well as Arlington, home of likely Republican top-two finisher John Koster. So, this district is kind of a jump ball, though it's a solid Democratic seat. Safe Democratic.
WA-02 (green): Rep. Rick Larsen (D) - 57.8% Obama, 40.3% McCain
Larsen positions himself to the right of the House Democratic caucus, meaning he's occasionally a pain in the ass. There is some credible speculation that Ceis actually agreed to the new map, which shores Larsen up impressively, for the sake of the moderate congressman, who narrowly fought off a surprisingly robust challenge from Koster in 2010. But this map actually gives him a decent lift as well; then-Sen. Barack Obama won 55.6% of the old district's voters in 2008. In a perfect world, a more progressive Democrat like state Rep. Marko Liias would run in the primary and finish ahead of Larsen. But I doubt it. Likely Democratic.
WA-03 (purple): Rep. Jaime Herrera Buetler (R) - 53% Obama, 45% McCain
I take it personally that any part of my native Portland metropolitan area is represented in Congress by that most useless of political creatures, the House Republican. As such, I have a fierce desire to see Herrera Buetler kicked from Congress, but no one of much stature seems to be keen on running in the new WA-03 thanks to Republican commissioners' strengthening the freshman congresswoman. Well, I decided to chop the bizarrely crimson Lewis County right out of this district in favor of taking in more of the Democratic-leaning Olympic Peninsula. The result is a district that Obama won by eight points but unsuccessful Republican Senate candidate and three-time statewide loser Dino Rossi carried in 2010 by five points. I think it's got a PVI of EVEN, but I expect the proposed light rail link between TriMet's MAX system south of the Columbia and Clark County's C-Tran system to be approved and completed this decade. That might see some young Portland transplants start moving to the Couve, prodding this district to the left. Either way, I really do think we can elect a Democrat over a party-line backbencher like Herrera Beutler in a district Obama won by eight points. Tossup/Tilt Democratic.
WA-04 (red): Rep. Doc Hastings (R) - 42.3% Obama, 55.7% McCain
In a pretty significant change, I excised Yakima County from Hastings's district entirely. To make up for it, I extended the district into exurban King and Snohomish counties, going as far west as the CDP of East Renton Highlands. Burner's hometown of Carnation actually ends up here, though she wouldn't want to run here. The district is still anchored by the conservative Tri-Cities area, with a secondary hub in central Washington, including places like Ellensburg and Wenatchee that were placed into WA-08 by the commission. The district remains very Republican; though it's not quite as insanely red, it's certainly out of reach for us. Safe Republican.
WA-05 (yellow): Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) - 46.2% Obama, 51.3% McCain
Whither eastern Washington? Spokane and Whitman counties saw marked improvement for the Democratic presidential nominee from 2004 to 2008; Obama actually carried the latter and came within a whisker of winning the former, where McMorris Rodgers has her home base. The result is a district here that McCain won by an unimpressive five points, the kind of margin that could be erased altogether in a less competitive Obama-Romney race this November (should the likely Republican presidential nominee's lackluster polling performance hold). McMorris Rodgers, who has been described as a smarter version of failed 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is still favored in a district like this, but a strong moderate Democrat could give her a vigorous challenge in a good year. Likely Republican.
WA-06 (magenta): OPEN - 74.3% Obama, 24.3% McCain
Not a lot to say about the politics here, but I decided to split Seattle into two congressional districts on this map. North Seattle is put together with the Eastside, where DelBene lives. So, I figure DelBene could run and win here; the district is more or less evenly split between the Seattle portion and the Eastside portion, population-wise. But her appeal to moderates would be a bit wasted in a district like this. It's basically the perfect field for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, to parachute into from his flying saucer. But I'll bet there are a slew of local Democrats who would regard this district as an opportunity for them, not for animatronic garden gnomes from the Midwest. Safe Democratic.
WA-07 (orange): Rep. Jim McDermott (D) - 76.8% Obama, 21.6% McCain
I am pretty sure McDermott lives in this urban-suburban district, the bluest on the map. It's also the most diverse, at 57.8% white by total population (61.8% white VAP), though naturally that's only by rather paltry Pacific Northwestern standards. I got a bit bored with making such a humdrum Democratic district, so in addition to Vashon Island (in King County), I added Bainbridge Island (in Kitsap County), because there's a ferry, it's effectively a Seattle suburb anyway, and I could. Safe Democratic.
WA-08 (chartreuse): OPEN - 45.8% Obama, 52.3% McCain
This district is only listed as open because Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, who has fended off three difficult reelection challenges in a row now (including an impressively strong bid by DelBene in 2010, when she fought against the red tide to nearly unseat the faux-moderate former sheriff), lives in Auburn, just across the district line. But really, it's an ideal district for Reichert. It includes exurbs and conservative suburbs in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties, the red bar jutting into western Washington that is Lewis County, stubbornly right-wing Yakima County, and swingy Klickitat County. It's just slightly redder than McMorris Rodgers's district by 2008 presidential performance, but it's also less likely to trend leftward and its light-red turf in the Seattle metropolitan area is accustomed to happily voting for Reichert. More power to you, dopes. Safe Republican with Reichert, Likely Republican without Reichert.
WA-09 (cyan): Reps. Adam Smith (D) and Dave Reichert (R) - 59.8% Obama, 38.4% McCain
Auburn is here, but Reichert is likely to run next door rather than embark on a kamikaze run against the entrenched Smith in a district Obama won by more than 20 points in 2008. This Tacoma-based seat stays out of the portion of Pierce County on the Kitsap Peninsula in favor of soaking up a few southwestern suburbs from King County, which are somewhat more Democratic than the former territory. However, it does take advantage of the Steilacoom ferry to grab McNeil and Anderson islands. This district is very unlikely to elect a Republican, and in fact, it could probably do with a more progressive Democrat than the occasionally irksome Smith. Safe Democratic.
WA-10 (teal): OPEN - 55.6% Obama, 42.5% McCain
This isn't really a new district, but it would set up a collision course between Olympia-based Denny Heck and Gig Harbor-based state Sen. Derek Kilmer. Heck is running for the new WA-10 anchored by Olympia under the new lines, while Kilmer is the likely Democratic successor to retiring Rep. Norm Dicks, the powerful longtime Democratic congressman. Democrats here are a diverse coalition of military families, blue-collar dockworkers, liberal arts students, and white-collar suburbanites, and I would probably prefer Kilmer to Heck here for that reason, though I think both would be favored to win in a district Obama carried by 13 points four years ago. Likely Democratic.
So, the map is effectively a 6-3-1. The thing I like is that Democrats really have about as many opportunities as Republicans do. A stable 5-5 split, which is entirely possible under the new lines, is all but out of the question here.
I figure if Herrera Buetler is ousted by someone who is a decent fit and keeps his or her nose clean, it's probably a reasonably secure 7-3 for the decade. I do think Herrera Buetler would probably lose this November under these lines, because I figure a favorable district would entice a strong Democratic candidate like Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt to run. So, gun to my head, I'd say 7-3.