With the 2022 mid-term elections fast upon us, candidates in Washington are off and running – in some cases, OFF and running. For example, Jerrod Sessler, an “America First Republican” challenging U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, proudly announced last week that he has captured the endorsement of retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, who issued a call last December for Trump to invoke “limited martial law” and temporarily suspend the U.S. Constitution in order for the military “to implement a national re-vote that reflects the true will of the American people.”
Newhouse is a Republican back bencher who represents the 4th District (Central Washington). He strayed from GOP colleagues following the U.S. Capitol insurrection last January as one of 10 House Republicans voting to impeach Trump. He has since returned to the party fold and tries to stress such local issues as the need for more Yakima River water storage. The Trump crowd do not forgive or forget, so Newhouse faces challengers on the far right.
So does U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the 3rd District (Southwest Washington). Not only did Herrera Beutler vote for impeachment, but she outed a mid-riot phone call in which House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asked Trump to call off the mob. When McCarthy insisted the insurrectionists were Trump backers, Trump shot back “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
McCarthy is back under Trump’s thumb. Herrera Beutler faces three Trump Republicans on the August primary ballot. One of the challengers, ex-Green Beret Joe Kent, spoke recently to a Washington, D.C., rally protesting alleged political prosecution of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.
An internal purge of Republicans in Congress is one national question being fought out in this Washington. So is the battle for control of Congress. Democrats are setting their sights on open seats in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they hope to face Trump cultists, and on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin). Republicans are drawing a bead on Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly in Arizona and Sen. Rev. Ralph Warnock in Georgia. They are also putting resources behind Tiffany Smiley, a veterans advocate whose Army officer husband was blinded in Iraq,a former triage nurse and public speaker from the Tri-Cities, who is challenging Sen. Patty Murray.
Murray is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership and is seeking her sixth term. The “mom in tennis shoes” has grown less accessible of late and is surrounded by the protective cocoon enjoyed by veteran senators. Smiley press releases and money appeals are Republican boilerplate, non-specific to the state and standard Republican hits on spendthrift Democrats. She has emerged as a defender of the Senate filibuster, criticizing Murray for backing an exemption in a bid to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. She accuses Democrats of seeking to transfer “control of our elections from state governments to unelected federal bureaucrats and courts.”
The GOP’s bid to retake the House has a top target here, U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier. The two-term Democrat, a pediatrician from Issaquah, holds the 8th District seat that was in Republican hands for 36 years until her election in 2018. King County Council member Reagan Dunn is best known among Republican challengers. Millions of dollars will be spent on this race.
The democratic socialist wing of the party will again mount challenges to Democratic U.S. Reps. Adam Smith, Rick Larsen, and Derek Kilmer. The challengers to Kilmer and Larsen were both on the ballot in 2020,and each received only about 13 percent of the primary vote. They were notably wetting themselves over radicals’ CHOP Capitol Hill occupation zone in Seattle, miles away from the districts they sought to represent in Congress. “Berniecrats” enjoy far less support in the general electorate than in Democratic district organizations in Seattle.
Republicans in the Washington state Legislature have historically staged major comebacks in elections with Democratic governors in office They are coming across less as culture warriors, having had heads handed to them in 2020 when voters ratified state mandates for sex education in schools. Rather, political fire appears aimed at alleged Democratic excess. It is a target-rich environment: Gov Inslee’s unending State of Emergency over COVID-19, the Long Term Health Care Tax (facing revision), “flawed policing bills” and – new target – legislation proposed by two Democratic legislators to lower criminal penalties for drive-by shooters.
“Forty-one House Republicans stand against this,” Tweeted House Minority Leader JT Wilcox, responding to the drive-by bill. The Republicans sought to make an issue of the modest capital gains tax, directed at the state’s wealthiest residents, adopted this year by the Democratic-run Legislature. But polls show solid popular support for the measure, which does not soak the rich but is more a light rinse job.
Wilcox has been out recruiting candidates and rallying the troops. He is seeking to outflank the Trump wars by urging Republicans to find their own voices. “I keep telling business and traditional GOP that it is necessary for them to involve themselves in the GOP, so that it reflects their values again,” he wrote in a message this week.
“All politics is local,” House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said. Such is certainly the case as Democrats draw a bead on the 42nd State Senate seat in Whatcom County held by the late Sen. Doug Ericksen, and as Republicans seek to win back suburban-exurban Senate seats in the 26th and 47th Districts captured by Democrats in 2018. On Whidbey Island, both State House seats are competitive.
But national moods help shape local elections. The Biden presidency was supposed to bring American back to normal, but COVID-19 has continued to spike – 300,000+ cases a day with advent of the Omicron variation – and climate change is serving up a menu of natural disasters. As Americans returned to the marketplace, with money to spend, prices have gone up. Confidence in Biden has gone down.
The ability of America to come together in crisis has permanently fractured. The relentless attack culture of conservative media has poured salt into social wounds. Trump’s actions in 2020 made the pandemic worse, while in 2021 Fox News and the political right seem bent on worsening the pandemic. Experts are demonized, witness this Tweet from Sen. Ted Cruz: “Fauci lied to Congress. That’s a felony. Fauci must be held accountable.”
The party in power suffers losses in times of unrest and stress, especially when it appears disorganized. Democrats compound the problem with internal squabbles and an inability to market their message. The Washington congressional delegation is holding event after event to tout the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which has brought a cornucopia of benefits to airports, highways, bridges and broadband access, yete in ABC anchor David Muir’s Biden interview last week, debate centered on what has NOT gotten done.
We pick a President and then we pick on him. Such is the political climate in America at this moment. The Republican opposition, although itself divided, is bullish. More than 20 of 221 House Democrats, including House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, are not seeking reelection. Some on the left have found a dark source of humor and hope in a National Public Radio survey which found that “counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have (residents) nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those areas that went for President Biden.”