Associated Press and Herald staff
OLYMPIA — Democrats were celebrating early returns in three congressional races in Washington state’s primary election, but Republicans said they were confident their party would hold on to all three seats in November.
Tina Podlodowski, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said that even though many more votes need to be counted, the early returns Tuesday night show that “nothing is guaranteed” for incumbent Republicans as Democrats showed strength that could carry through to November.
“Democrats are within striking distance of picking up three congressional seats,” she said.
In two of the districts – the 3rd and the 8th – Democratic candidates combined were taking more of the vote than the GOP candidates in early returns.
Washington is a vote-by-mail state, and voters had a deadline of 8 p.m. to have their ballot postmarked or placed in a drop box. In some of the more competitive races, results may not be known for days as most counties will update vote counts only once a day.
Just over 24 percent of the vote had been counted by Tuesday night. State GOP chairman Caleb Heimlich said that “it’s still too early to come to any big conclusions.”
“The eyes of the nation will be on those three seats,” he said. “We will do the hard work and we will connect voters and keep those seats in Republican hands.”
The contest getting the most attention is an open U.S. House seat Democrats hope to capture for the first time since the district east of Seattle was created in 1980. Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert is retiring from the 8th Congressional District after more than a decade.
Republican Dino Rossi, a former state senator who had unsuccessful runs for governor and U.S. Senate, was leading a crowded ballot and easily advanced to the general election.
Under Washington’s primary system, the top two vote getters go on to November, regardless of party.
Among the dozen candidates on the ballot, one of three Democrats are expected to advance: pediatrician Kim Schrier, attorney Jason Rittereiser, or former federal public-health official Shannon Hader. Schrier took an early lead among the group Tuesday night for the second spot, followed closely by Rittereiser. In early returns, the three Democrats combined had a larger vote total than Rossi, giving Democrats hope they’ll consolidate that support in November.
The other nine U.S. House seats were also contested in the primary, with the incumbents advancing to the general election.
In the 5th Congressional District in eastern Washington, Republican incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers advanced, along with Democrat Lisa Brown, a former chancellor of Washington State University who previously served as majority leader in the state Senate. Brown and McMorris Rodgers were nearly tied in early returns.
The expected face-off between McMorris Rodgers and Brown in November has seen a flurry of television attack ads in the Spokane market.
In the 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler advanced along with Democrat Carolyn Long, a professor at Washington State University Vancouver. In early returns, Herrera Beutler had a slim lead over Long. Herrera Beutler has won her last two elections with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Of interest to Snohomish County voters, Democratic U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene advanced easily Tuesday.
Larsen, who is seeking a 10th term, had 66.3 percent of the vote Tuesday night.
It’s not certain whom Larsen will face in November. Four of five challengers were potential second-place finishers: Brian Luke of Lynnwood, a Libertarian; Gary Franco of Lopez Island, an independent; Collin Richard Carlson of Marysville, a Democrat; and Uncle Mover of Mill Creek, a moderate Republican. Stonewall Jackson “Stoney” Bird of Bellingham, a Green, trailed the field.
At stake is a two-year term in the 2nd District covering Island and San Juan counties, plus western Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties. It includes Everett, Marysville, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo, Arlington, Stanwood and Tulalip.
Larsen, 53, of Everett, was first elected in 2000 and has been re-elected eight times. With a victory in November, he would become the district’s longest-serving representative.
DelBene, 56, of Medina, is seeking a fourth term. She had received 60.2 percent, followed by Republican Jeffrey Beeler, a Sultan city councilman, with 25.1 percent.
If the results hold, the two will meet in November, with the winner earning a two-year term representing the 1st District, which stretches from suburbs in northeast King County to the Canadian border. In Snohomish County, it includes Darrington, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Monroe, Snohomish and Sultan.
Republican Scott Stafne had 11.4 percent, followed by Adam Pilskog with 2.4 percent and Robert Mair with 0.9 percent. Pilskog and Mair did not align with any party.
In the one statewide race on the ballot, Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Republican Susan Hutchison both advanced to the November ballot, with Cantwell taking a large share of the votes in early returns.
Cantwell, who is seeking her fourth term, easily outpaced all other candidates in the Democratic primary. Cantwell is Washington’s junior senator and the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Hutchison, a former GOP state party chair, was finishing second in the voting.
Three state Supreme Court races were on the ballot, though Supreme Court Justices Susan Owens and Sheryl Gordon McCloud will advance unopposed to the November ballots. Opponents for each were stripped from the ballot after judges ruled they were ineligible to hold the seats since they both had been disbarred. Only Justice Steven Gonzalez, a member of the court since 2012, has an opponent, Bellevue attorney Nathan Choi, who has not raised any money in his campaign. Both Gonzalez and Choi will automatically advance to the November ballot.
By Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte, with contributions by Herald writer Jerry Cornfield and Associated Press writer Nicholas K. Geranios.