Pres-by-LD: Our project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation hits Washington, where one rogue Democrat gives the GOP control of the state Senate and where Democrats have a bare state House majority. You can find our master list of states here, which we'll be updating as we add new states; you can also find all our data from 2016 and past cycles here.
Each of the Evergreen State’s 49 legislative districts has two state representatives and one state senator. The two House members are each elected every two years: Candidates must choose whether to run for the position one or position two seat (also known as the A or B seat). The two House seats, as well as the Senate seat, have identical boundaries. Senators are elected to four-year terms, with half the chamber up every two years. Candidates run on one ballot in the August primary and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election in each race.
Hillary Clinton carried Washington 54-38, a similar margin as Barack Obama’s 56-41 win four years before, and she took 30 of the 34 legislative seats that Obama won; Trump carried all of the Romney districts. Washington’s legislative and congressional lines were drawn up by a bipartisan commission, and they don’t seem to have favored either party. One way to illustrate this is to sort each seat in each chamber by Trump's margin of victory over Clinton and see how the seat in the middle—known as the median seat—voted. This district backed Clinton 53-39, just a little to the right of her statewide performance. But despite Clinton’s clear win, Democrats have only a nominal 25-24 majority in the Senate. But state Sen. Tim Sheldon, who has repeatedly been elected as a Democrat, is allied with the GOP, and his vote allows Team Red to run the chamber. The state House has a tiny 50-48 Democratic majority but since there are no defectors, Democrat Frank Chopp sits in the speaker’s chair.
We’ll start with a look at the state Senate. Seven Republicans hold Clinton seats, while only one mainstream Democrat represents Trump territory. That Democrat is Dean Takko, whose southwestern LD-19 swung from 54-44 Obama all the way to 51-42 Trump. Takko had served as a state representative and was appointed to the Senate in 2015 after the incumbent took another job. Takko won the 2016 election 55-45, and the seat won’t be up again until 2020.
Renegade Democrat Tim Sheldon’s LD-35, which is located west or Tacoma, swung from 51-46 Obama to 47-44 Trump. However, Democrats may have a Sheldon-proof majority a year before the 2018 elections. Last year, Republican state Sen. Andy Hill died of lung cancer, and there will be a special election in November of 2017 for his old LD-45. This seat, which is located east of Seattle, went from 58-40 Obama all the way to 65-28 Clinton, making it the bluest GOP-held seat in either chamber.
Republican Dino Rossi, who ran for governor in 2004 and 2008 and the U.S. Senate in 2010, was appointed to replace Hill, but Rossi says he’s not interested in running in the special. Democrats have consolidated behind prosecutor Manka Dhingra, while it’s unclear whom the GOP will field. If Democrats can flip this seat, they’ll have control of the Senate for the first time since Sheldon and now-former state Sen. Rodney Tom launched their coup in late 2012.
LD-45 will be up again in the fall of 2018, and Democrats have a few other GOP-held Senate seats they can target next year. LD-30, held by Republican Mark Miloscia (a former Democratic state representative) went from 59-39 Obama to 57-36 Clinton. LD-47, represented by Republican Joe Fain, went from 56-42 Obama to 54-38 Clinton. Both Miloscia and Fain decisively won during the 2014 GOP wave but if next year is good for Democrats, they could be in for a tougher fight. The GOP-held LD-26 and LD-42 both narrowly backed Clinton (she carried the latter seat by just 10 votes), but they’ll be tough targets.
Democrats could also try exacting revenge on Sheldon next year, but their best bet may be to deny him a place in the general election rather than try beating him in November. Indeed, this almost happened in 2014, when Democrat Irene Bowling took first with 35 percent while Sheldon edged Republican Travis Couture by just 600 votes for the second-place spot in the top-two primary. However, Sheldon ended up beating Bowling 54-46 a few months later.
We’ll turn next to the state House. In the 2014 GOP wave, Republicans chipped the Democratic majority down from 55-43 to just 51-47; in the fall of 2015, the GOP picked up a Democratic seat in a special election. Democrats hoped that the presidential race would allow them to expand their majority, but their narrow 50-48 majority didn’t move.
Just like in the state Senate, ticket-splitting overwhelmingly helps the GOP. Eleven Republican represent Clinton seats, while state Rep. Brian Blake is the one Democrat to hail from a Trump district. Blake represents the same aforementioned LD-19 that sends Dean Takko to the state Senate. After Blake, the House Democrats in the reddest seat are Mike Chapman and Steve Tharinger, whose LD-24 went from 54-43 Obama to 49-43 Clinton.
Team Blue will get the chance to play offensive next year. The bluest GOP-held seat is LD-05, which elects Republican state Reps. Jay Rodne and Paul Graves to the lower house, even though it has a Democratic state senator. This seat, located east of Seattle, went from 53-44 Obama to 55-37 Clinton, but Rodne won a seventh term 52-48 and Graves won his first term 54-46. Three other Republicans hold seats where Clinton’s margin of victory was over 10 percent, while those remaining six Republicans hold districts where her margin was no greater than 3.2 percent.