2012 elections preview: Washington voters to select winners in congressional, legislative primaries

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August 6, 2012

By Ballotpedia's Congressional and State legislative teams

Washington holds its primary on Tuesday. Washington has a top-two primary, meaning the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, go on to the general election.[1] Registered voters received their ballots in the mail. Voters may either send their ballots in by mail, postmarked by Election Day, or turn them in to a ballot drop-box or elections department by 8 p.m. on Election Day.[2]

Contested Primaries in Washington -- August 7, 2012
U.S. House
(10 seats)
State Legislature
(122 seats)
Total Contested Primaries 10 (100%) 28 (23%)


With its top-two primary system, Washington will have a contest in every congressional primary this year. In addition to the Senate race and 10 U.S. House district races, there is a special election being held in Washington's 1st District.

U.S. Senate

See also: United States Senate elections in Washington, 2012

Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell is seeking re-election this year. She was first elected in 2000. Cantwell is not expected to lose in the primary, so the top-two system will likely determine which candidate will face Cantwell in the general election. According to the Washington Republican Party Chairman, Kirby Wilbur, state Senator Michael Baumgartner and political newcomer Art Coday are the top Republican hopes. He said Cantwell has "a record that she has to answer for... This is an election really about Maria Cantwell."[3]

Thus far, Cantwell has a $4.5 million advantage over any of her challengers.[3]

U.S. House

See also: United States House of Representatives elections in Washington, 2012

Three districts are open in 2012, meaning there isn't an incumbent running for re-election. In the 1st, incumbent Jay Inslee (D), retired to pursue his run for Washington governor. In the 6th, longtime Representative Norm Dicks opted not to run for a 19th term. The 10th District was added following the results of the 2010 Census, so there is no incumbent for that district.

In the races with incumbents running, the primary looks to be unexciting, as those generally have at most challenger who has raised significant campaign funds. (For example, see the 2nd District and 4th District primaries.)

Adding complication in the 1st District, the state is holding a special election to fill Jay Inslee's seat after the congressman retired early. While the special election is taking place on the same dates as the regular elections, it will fill the 1st District seat for the short period of time between the November election and the start of the full term in January 2013. Also, since the district's boundaries were redrawn following the results of the 2010 Census, voters in the old 1st District will vote in the special election, while the new 1st District voters will select the full-term representative.[4]

The 1st District has the potential to switch from blue to red, with the Democratic incumbent retiring and redistricting changing the district's boundaries.[3] Polling puts Republican John Koster ahead of the other candidates, who are five Democrats and an independent. The same data showed Democratic candidate Suzan DelBene overtaking Darcy Burner for the second slot, thanks largely to a recent TV ad blitz from DelBene.[5] Earlier in the year, Burner, a progressive activist, had capitalized on anti-wealthy sentiment to pull ahead of former executive DelBene.[3] The race is seen as a battleground between the Democratic establishment and more ideologically extreme candidates.[6]

The 6th District seat is open as incumbent Democrat Norm Dicks did not seek re-election. State Senator Derek Kilmer is running as a Democrat and is considered the front runner in the race--Democrats have won the last 24 elections in the 6th District.[7]

In the new 10th District, former state House Majority Leader Denny Heck has the most political experience as well as the best-funded campaign.[8]

Members of the U.S. House from Washington -- Partisan Breakdown
Party As of November 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 5 6
     Republican Party 4 4
Total 9 10

State legislature

See also: Washington State Senate elections, 2012 and Washington House of Representatives elections, 2012

There are 122 total legislative seats with elections in 2012 -- 24 Senate seats and 98 House seats.

Washington uses the blanket primary system. There are 28 contested primaries across the state where the number of candidates outnumbers the number of slots available for the general election. The 28 contested primaries represents 23.0 percent of possible primaries tomorrow. This figure is slightly higher than the current national contested average of 19.38 percent for states that have had filing deadlines.


There are four primaries in the State Senate races in which more than two candidates are running.

  • District 1: Incumbent Rosemary McAuliffe (D), who was first elected in 1993, faces Democratic candidate and ranch owner Guy Palumbo and Republican former teacher Dawn McCravey in a three-way primary race.
  • District 2: Incumbent Randi Becker (R), who has represented District 2 since 2008, faces Democratic candidate and former airline captain Bruce L. Lachney and Republican military analyst James E. Vaughn in a three-way contest for the two spots on the general election ballot.
  • District 20: Incumbent Dan Swecker (R), who was first appointed in 1995 and has represented District 20 since that time, faces two Republican candidates: vehicle manufacturing company president John E. Braun and employment specialist Rae Lowery.
  • District 40: Incumbent and Assistant Majority Whip Kevin Ranker first took office in 2009. He faces Republican and waterjet manufacturing company founder John Swapp and Independent retired teacher Jim Cozad.
Washington State Senate
Party As of November 5, 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 27 26
     Republican Party 22 23
Total 49 49


There are 24 primaries in the State House of Representatives races in which more than two candidates are running.

Washington House of Representatives
Party As of November 5, 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 56 55
     Republican Party 42 43
Total 98 98