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Rep. Jay Inslee's (D) gubernatorial bid gives Washington state's redistricting commission some room to maneuver as it looks to squeeze in a new district gained in reapportionment.
The result could further entrench the eight remaining incumbents — four Democrats, four Republicans — and give Democrats the opportunity to hold a 6-4 advantage in the delegation.
"Because we gained a Member of Congress as a result of the census, all of the Members obviously are concerned about where their lines will be," former Sen. Slade Gorton (R), who serves on the five-member redistricting commission, said in an interview.
The commission's two Republicans, two Democrats and a nonvoting commission chairman have not yet begun cross-party negotiations. They have until Jan. 1 to agree to a plan, and in the past two decades the plans weren't settled until New Year's Eve, Gorton said.
But there is a consensus among the Republicans and Democrats in the state who spoke with Roll Call that Republican Reps. Dave Reichert and Jaime Herrera Beutler, who picked up an open Democratic seat last year, likely will see their seats packed with more Republicans.
And should Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) decide to move West and bid for a seat because his own is likely to vanish through Ohio's redistricting process, things could get interesting.
Reichert, whose district voted for President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the past two presidential elections, is a perennial target for Democrats, and Herrera Beutler likely would be as well.
By removing some of the more Democratic parts of Olympia's Thurston County in the 3rd district, a new 10th district that would favor Democrats could be carved out. Northeast of Seattle, Inslee's 1st district could gain some of the more Democratic areas of Reichert's district, which is based in King and Pierce counties but is expected to move farther south and east.
Rep. Rick Larsen (D), who won by just 2 points in 2010, could see his 2nd district in the northwestern corner of the state pick up some more Democratic areas closer to Seattle, making it safer.
"The two big variables are where to put the new 10th and how to realign the open 1st," Democratic consultant Christian Sinderman said. "Everyone else is an incumbent with an entrenched desire to make their district safer than it is."
Democrat Denny Heck, who lost to Herrera Beutler last year, is hoping the 10th ends up in his base of Thurston County. He even filed candidacy papers last month with the Federal Election Commission that listed his district as the still imaginary 10th. He quickly refiled, placing "00" as his district.
If the 10th is instead drawn in King County, Heck could still challenge Herrera Beutler in what will likely be a stronger district for Republicans.
Republican consultant Todd Myers said the 10th district would be better for the GOP if it weren't placed in Thurston County, and Inslee's exit likely puts the 1st district in play, too.
"I think the 1st will be competitive, no matter where that ends up," he said. "The 10th, if it ends up in King County, they'll have to draw it in a competitive way."
Republican James Watkins, who lost to Inslee by 16 points last year, is running again, and several Democrats have at least announced exploratory committees. They include state Reps. Roger Goodman and Marko Liias, as well as former state Rep. Laura Ruderman.
Also mentioned as potential candidates, depending on how the lines are drawn, are Suzan DelBene, who lost to Reichert by 4 points last year; state Sen. Steve Hobbs; Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown; and state House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter.
Kucinich, a liberal known nationally as a two-time presidential candidate, will be in Seattle again July 9 as he remains open to running for Congress outside Ohio. He has spent time in the 1st district and would shake up any race he enters.
Kucinich's office did not return a request for comment, but the eight-term Congressman told the Associated Press last week that he is not sure where he will run. "It's way too early to have that discussion because the [redistricting] maps aren't available," he said.
In the 2nd district, Republican John Koster is running again after coming within 7,000 votes of defeating Larsen in 2010. But, like Heck, he could face a more difficult district than he ran for last year.
In Washington state, House and Senate races are floating beneath the political radar that right now is squarely focused on the gubernatorial race. With Attorney General Rob McKenna on the ticket, Republicans have a good shot at winning the governor's mansion for the first time since 1980.
Meanwhile, there is no chatter about a potential Republican challenger to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D), who will seek a third term next year.
If Reichert has been looking at the race, Evergreen State observers believe the four-term Congressman will abandon the idea if his seat is redrawn favorably. Gorton said the GOP doesn't "have anyone close to announcing."
"The overwhelming interest in the state now is on the governor's race, so talk of the Senate has been pretty minimal," Gorton said. "It has to do with the fact that this is a Democratic state. It's not a position that's impossible to win, but it has not drawn any interest yet."
Former strategist Ron Dotzauer, a veteran of Democratic politics who managed Cantwell's 2000 triumph that unseated Gorton and can still tick off her exact margin of victory (2,229 votes), said the dearth of challengers can be partly explained by the GOP's inability to defeat Sen. Patty Murray (D) in 2010.
"They spent a lot of money trying to unseat her in a good Republican year, and they weren't able to do it," Dotzauer said. "So what do their chances look like in 2012 in a presidential year? They diminish pretty significantly."