How the GOP gained 4 seats in the state House

Looks like the Grand Old Party got its groove back.

After this election, Republicans will hold a majority of seats in the state Senate for the first time since 2004 and boast their largest contingent in the state House in more than a decade.

“It was a good year to be a Republican,” understated Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm.

The most stirring change is in the House, where the GOP is poised to pick up four seats and shrink Democrats’ numeric advantage to 51-47, its smallest margin since 2002.

Republican challengers are toppling four incumbent Democrats this cycle, three of whom are chairmen of House committees dealing with higher education and the funding of public schools and social services.

Certainly, the party benefitted from the political wave that defined the midterms nationally. But success is also a product of an evolving political operation that’s helped the caucus add 10 seats since 2010 and move from the perch of irrelevance to the precipice of a majority.

“We’re the only Republican House in the country to gain seats in the last four election cycles,” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish.

The caucus has done it by embracing a more disciplined and decentralized approach to electioneering since Kristiansen became the leader in early 2013.

As the year began, the political leadership of the House Republican Organizational Committee honed in on eight battleground races.

Two involved defending Republican seats — the one in Snohomish County’s 44th District that Republican Mike Hope vacated and the other in the 26th District, where appointed Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, sought to win a full term. The other six were held by Democrats in districts where Republicans have won in the past.

GOP leaders recruited candidates, committed resources to those campaigns and decided to not heavily fund Republicans in many other contests. In the past, the caucus spread its money into so many contests it wound up without enough resources to influence close ones late in an election.

On Nov. 4, the GOP held two seats, won four of the six it targeted and came within a percentage point of getting a fifth. Women accounted for three of the victories.

“I don’t think there was anything real smart in this. We played big where we could play,” Wilcox said.

Restructuring the political operation also contributed.

While Kristiansen leads the caucus, he did not run HROC. Rather, in this cycle, Wilcox and two veteran members, Reps. Bruce Chandler of Granger and Cary Condotta of East Wenatchee, divided the duties and shared the decision-making while staying in constant contact with Kristiansen.

And this go-round HROC did not exercise as much control in the way candidates ran campaigns.

In the past, the caucus political operatives hired consultants to manage several campaigns. This year candidates in battleground races chose their own consultants, who in turn interacted with HROC as desired.

Such changes increased trust among caucus members and with candidates and donors, Kristiansen said.

Wilcox had high praise for Kristiansen’s role in the caucus’ good fortunes.

“His biggest talent is he wants people to succeed,” Wilcox said. “We’re making progress. We are not the least bit satisfied being a close minority.”

House Republicans are even thinking that in an election or two, they could hold a House majority again.

They haven’t been grooving like that since 1998.

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