Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski is eyeing around two dozen legislative seats and three congressional districts, where Democratic candidates made gains on primary night. She argues her candidates pose a real a threat to Republican incumbents in November.
“I think the work we've done for the last year and a half has really had its big proof point in this particular election,” said Podlodowski.
Well in advance of Tuesday's primary, Washington Democrats launched a targeted strategy of organizing and running in all corners of the state.
“Our goal was every race, every place. In 2016, Democrats didn't even bother to run candidates in over 20 legislative districts,” she said.
This time around, Democratic candidates, including a number of first-time candidates, were recruited to run in almost every single legislative district, performing surprisingly well in typically conservative districts such as the suburbs around Spokane.
“I think we have to keep doing the work we're doing, but we have a tremendous opportunity to win in places we haven't won in a long time,” said Podlodowski. “I think it's a referendum on the Republican party and Republican values, as well as running great candidates who understand local issues.”
Podlodowski said more than 70 percent of the new Democratic candidates are women, or people of color, or millennials, or all three. In addition, she said they were carefully selected to fit the district and demographics.
As for the congressional districts, Podlodoski believes her party has a shot at flipping the 8th, 5th and even the 3rd.
“I think the national scene is very excited about what’s happening in Washington state. Forget about Ohio, let’s take a look at Washington,” she smiled.
Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, where Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler is facing a challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long, was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee “red to blue” list of districts they’re targeting.
“We were optimistic, hoping for better results, but when we dug into the numbers, Democrats are very angry, very motivated,” said Washington Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich. “Their base got out, and we've just got to move forward into November when the election actually really matters.”
Heimlich said his analysis shows more Democratic voters turned in greater numbers by about five percent, this week. However, he acknowledges that Republicans are swimming upstream based on the historical trend of the Party in the White House losing seats.
“You can look back at 2010, you can look back at 1994. You can look at 2006,” Heimlich said referencing past wave years. “There are elections where the winds are in one party's favor. This year, we are fighting against historic trends, so we have to connect with our voters. That's what we're focusing on, what our candidates focusing on.”
Heimlich called Tuesday night a test-run. He's downplaying the possibility of the blue tsunami that State Democrats are hoping for, but, without question—there will be a tough fight ahead over the next three months.
“They’re assuming a lot of trends that would have to go extremely their way. I don’t see that happening in the next three months,” said Heimlich.
“Obviously, there's a real risk," he continued. "We have some vulnerable legislators that we have to protect. We protect them by reminding voters if you're voting for a Democrat for state legislature, you're voting for Seattle style leadership,” he said, giving a preview of the key messaging strategy Washington Republicans we employ.
However, Chair Podlodowski doesn’t believe the Seattle messaging will work, saying her candidates are prepared to pivot back to the issues and economic message specific to their districts.