Political Report: Testing Mark Mullet; Smiley Taking on Newhouse?


In what could lead to a dramatic end to state election Filing Week, the independent campaign backing state Sen. Mark Mullet for governor is in the field with a poll to test whether an early ad blitz has raised his profile. 

The Coalition for Pragmatic Leadership survey tests the favorability of the moderate Issaquah Democrat; Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the presumptive Democratic front-runner; and Republicans Dave Reichert and Semi Bird. A little bird slipped us the questions. Were told the results could be in as early as today.

It also tests this argument for Mullet over Ferguson: 

We’ve written about this campaign several times because it envisions a massive and unprecedented application of independent political money to elevate Mullet past Ferguson, a progressive viewed with suspicion by many in the business lobby. The timing of the poll allows for some last-minute decision-making, and one of the later questions tests a possible off-ramp for Mullet should the results turn out bleakly. 

Mullet is the most powerful ally of business writ large in Olympia. If he runs for governor and loses in the primary, his power will diminish, perhaps to zero. Although Mullet¹ isn’t in that race for Insurance Commissioner, which our Sara Kassabian previewed here and here, many players in insurance and health care wish he were. He filed for governor on Monday and has said he isn’t backing down. But the big wallets behind the PAC might prefer a stronger horse in a down-ballot race than an also-ran at the top of the ticket. The filing deadline is this Friday.

Filing week drama in the 4th CD 

If the shenanigans at the state Republican convention weren’t weird enough for you, things just got stranger in central Washington’s 4th Congressional District. Republican Tiffany Smiley, last seen taking a beat-down from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray in 2022, filed this week to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse. 

This may be the ultimate test of whether the Washington State Republican Party’s endorsement matters in the August primary. Smiley does not have that endorsement, but she didn’t even deign to participate in the process, which played out last month in Spokane. Delegates spurned Newhouse over his vote to impeach Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection, choosing former NASCAR driver and noted gun-fondler Jerrod Sessler, who has Trump’s endorsement. 

Sessler was among the crowd who challenged Newhouse from the right two years ago. Voters were not impressed, and Sessler finished a slow fourth in the primary with 12% of the vote. The far more telegenic Smiley, meanwhile, won the district handily in her race for the Senate. 

So the interesting question is whether Smiley’s decision hurts or helps Newhouse’s chances. The combined vote of the candidates to his right in the 2022 primary would have buried him by double digits, which boded well for Sessler this year. Will Smiley and the name recognition bought with her $21 million U.S. Senate campaign steal Sessler’s air? Or will Smiley and Sessler split the Trumpist/anti-Newhouse vote again this year? 

The cynic in us raises an eyebrow at the timing of this announcement. If I’m the Speaker of the House looking at losing Rep. Newhouse, I’m a lot happier with Smiley than Sessler, who figures to be part of the Marjorie Taylor Green/Matt Gaetz/Lauren Boebert problem.

An Impromptu Purge of Conservative Rs?

There was something of an impromptu purge of the most conservative members of the House Republican caucus in 2022. Two far-right members, Robert Sutherland in Snohomish County’s 39th District, and Rob Chase in the Spokane-area 4th District, were beaten for reelection by moderate Republicans. Three others swung and missed at higher office. Three of those folks could be back in the House next year. 

Sutherland has filed for a rematch against first-term Rep. Sam Low, R-Lake Stevens. Chase is running for an open seat in the 4th. The guy who beat him, Rep. Leonard Christian, R-Spokane Valley, is running for the open Senate seat there. 

On the Kitsap Peninsula, former Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, is running for the open seat in the 26th District being vacated by fellow Republican Spencer Hutchins, who won in 2022 as Young was losing a challenge to Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton. Young was one of the most ardent opponents of abortion rights in the Legislature. He faces Republican Jim Henderson, a lobbyist for landlord groups, and Democrat Addison Richards, a victims rights attorney. (Paul Queary)

A dearth of same-party challengers

In theory, Washington’s top-two primary system should allow for pitched battles over relatively narrow political differences because so many districts are either safely Republican or safely Democratic. That means an incumbent can’t count on cruising past a primary opponent and crushing a token from the other party in the fall. That should lead to more legit challenges that play out in November. 

The reality, sadly, is far more boring. Intra-party challenges are few and far between. Most incumbent members of the Legislature get either no challenger at all or a no-hoper from the other party. Here’s Robert Cruikshank, a frequent critic of the Legislature’s Democratic majority’s incremental progress on progressive priorities, bemoaning this phenomenon. 

Cruickshank’s thread makes for an interesting litany of progressive grievances with the Legislature. As of Wednesday morning, a handful of Seattle Democrats had picked up Republican challengers. All figure to dispatch them with ease. Some 60 members of the Legislature—about 40 percent of the total seats in the House and Senate—were running unopposed as of Wednesday morning.  

One interesting outlier was Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, the powerful chair of the House Transportation Committee, who has a challenge from the left in the 27th District.


1. We talked to some of our friends in the polling world about this question. Introducing this race at the end of the poll and testing Mullet, who appears earlier in the survey, against Kuderer and Fortunato, who do not, might well lead to an inflated result for Mullet.   

These articles first appeared in the author’s political website The Washington Observer.

Paul Queary
Paul Queary
Paul Queary, a veteran AP reporter and editor, is founder of The Washington Observer, an independent newsletter on politics, government and the influence thereof in Washington State.


  1. Mullet has never met a progressive tax he liked, or a charter school he didn’t like. I’ll be delighted to see him voted out of elected office.


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