Republican Eslick’s 2018 fortunes may depend on Democrats

She has a formidable House seat opponent in Elizabeth Scott, a conservative former state lawmaker.

Carolyn Eslick

Carolyn Eslick

OLYMPIA — Democrats made it possible for Republican Carolyn Eslick, of Sultan, to become the newest member of the state House of Representatives.

She may need their help again to keep the job.

Eslick entered the Legislature on Sept. 20 by way of appointment to a vacant seat in the 39th Legislative District, a sprawling territory encompassing towns along U.S. 2 in east Snohomish County, a swath of rural Skagit County and a speck of King County.

Elected councilmembers and commissioners in those counties chose her rather than Elizabeth Scott, a former state lawmaker who was the top choice of the district’s precinct committee officers. With no debate, 12 of the 17 elected leaders — nine Democrats and three Republicans — backed Eslick.

The appointment is good through the November 2018 election. If Eslick envisions serving longer, she must win in next year’s elections.

And she’s already got a very tough opponent in Scott, who declared her intent to run immediately following Eslick’s selection.

Scott, a Monroe resident, held the House seat for four years, winning with 53 percent in 2012 and nearly 63 percent in 2014. She was a lock for re-election in 2016 but chose to run for Congress.

A health scare forced her to the sidelines in that race. Scott has returned and her unbending Tea Party-inspired conservatism proved more popular with GOP activists than Eslick’s moderate and pragmatic approach to governing.

Skagit County Republican Party Chairman Bill Bruch wrote in an online post that even though Democrats “robbed Elizabeth of what should have been an absolute no-brainer appointment, Elizabeth will be running in 2018 and will be the clear favorite.”

Eslick knows how tough it will be. You bet I do,” she said in an interview earlier this month. “I have to prove I’m going to be great in this position.”

She may have to convince voters without a lot of overt support of the Republican Party machinery.

The House Republican Caucus generally steers clear of primaries with no elected GOP incumbent, said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish. This is such a case as Eslick is appointed, said Kristiansen who coincidentally is her seatmate in the 39th district.

Snohomish County Republican Party Chairwoman Debra Blodgett applauded Eslick’s selection but made no commitments about 2018. “We’ll deal with that when the time comes,” she said.

And it’s clear what Bruch thinks.

Which brings us to Democrats for whom the 39th has been a wasteland. They’ve not had one of their own elected in the district this century.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and leaders of the Snohomish County Democratic Party are going to have to decide whether it’s worth recruiting a candidate for the seat.

Doing so assures at least a three-way race with Eslick and Scott and could spoil things for Eslick.

Traditionally, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans participate in higher numbers in primaries than party moderates and independents. This scenario bodes better for Scott and increases the likelihood she and the Democratic candidate finish in the top two ahead of Eslick.

If Democratic leaders conclude Eslick is the preferred alternative to Scott in the Legislature, not fielding a candidate would boost her chances of making it through the primary.

Certainly Eslick would need votes of Republicans to win next November.

Without help from Democrats along the way she may not even get a chance to try.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield @herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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