This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
If ever there were an election in which the vote of individual Washingtonians counted, it’s the one happening today.
The most obvious reason is right at the top of the ballot, where Republican Dino Rossi is asking voters for the job now held by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. Political analysts from coast to coast think this race could decide whether the Democratic Party – facing possibly catastrophic congressional losses – can cling to its control of the Senate by a finger-hold.
And the Senate contest appears excruciating close. Most recent polls have shown Murray ahead by a hair, a few have shown Rossi ahead by a hair, and it’s anyone’s guess how the late votes will break. Murray has exceeded expectations in the past, but Rossi in 2004 achieved a statistical tie running for governor against Chris Gregoire.
It’s easy to imagine this race turning on a few thousand ballots – or fewer. Given the stakes, a slight margin of Washington ballots could go a long way toward shaping the nation’s direction in coming years.
The fights for two or three of Washington’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives might also be decided by small margins. In the South Sound’s 9th District, a Republican tsunami could conceivably help Republican Dick Muri edge out U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma, further eroding President Obama’s base of support in Congress.
While the Murray-Rossi race has sucked up most of the media oxygen in recent weeks, a monumental battle over the state Legislature will also be decided today. As in the congressional races, the Democrats are mostly playing defense. They’ve enjoyed comfortable majorities in both the House and Senate in recent years, but those majorities will almost certainly be whittled down.
The question is, by how much? With multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfalls again facing state government, and many essential state services already pared deeply, the 2011 Legislature will have to make truly brutal choices to make ends meet. A big surge in the Republican caucuses in Olympia could shape the decisions dramatically.
Many legislative districts were drawn to be safely Democratic or Republican; as a result of Washington’s top two primary system, voters in some of those districts can only choose between candidates of the same party in certain races.
As usual, the suspense lies in the swing districts, including the Peninsula’s 26th, the 28th of the Lakewood-University Place area, and the Federal Way area’s 30th. Any or all of these could see seats shift from Democratic to Republican control, with potentially fateful consequences for state government.
Rarely has so much political power been in play in a single election. For Democrats, Republicans and independents, the moral is the same: Vote.