SEATTLE — One district had been a Republican heartland of freight-haulers and timber-workers before a shift toward suburbs and tech. Another was historically Democratic from the power of the railroad unions, then veered toward the Republicans. A third is liberal on its western side, conservative to the east, and locked in a battle over which side will prevail.
Three of Washington State’s 10 congressional districts are in play in Tuesday’s election — all considered competitive by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report — and so all three are potentially crucial to Republicans in holding their majority in the House of Representatives, and to Democrats in their hopes of taking back the House. Two seats are held by Republican incumbents, while the third is an open seat being vacated by a Republican.
Washington State as a whole leans left these days, from the dominance in population of the Seattle area — both senators are Democrats, as are six of the 10 House members. But the state’s three in-play districts do not fit that pattern, or really any pattern. All are starkly different from one another in economics, demographics, history and in the pitches that the candidates are making to voters.
Here is a look at three key races that could be pivotal on Tuesday — though the results may not be known until the wee hours of Wednesday or later, given that ballots in the state’s vote-by-mail election can be postmarked as late as Election Day itself.
A Changing Population
Railroads and a perfect climate for soft white winter wheat have shaped the huge Fifth District that stretches across Washington’s east side from Canada to Oregon. Once, in another political era, Representative Thomas S. Foley, a Democrat and the former speaker of the House, dominated the district, but most of the current century has belonged to Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Ms. Rodgers, a Republican first elected in 2004, is the highest-ranking female Republican in the House, as chair of the Republican Conference, which articulates policies for the majority, and has mostly batted away challengers in recent elections like pesky flies.
But the district, anchored by Spokane, Washington’s second largest city after Seattle, has also been changing, becoming more urban and more politically and ethnically diverse. Some rural corners of the district have struggled, with about one in eight residents living below the poverty line, and some counties, in losing young people, have become among the fastest aging in the state. The power of the railroad unions that once backed politicians like Mr. Foley faded long ago.
In the all-party primary election in August, Ms. Rodgers was jolted by a surprisingly narrow victory — about 4 percentage points — over Lisa Brown, a Democratic former state legislator and economics professor. As the top two finishers, they will face one another again on Tuesday.
President Trump carried the district by 13 percentage points in 2016, while losing Washington as a whole, but his divisive brand of politics has not been considered helpful to Ms. Rodgers, making her district part of a huge swath of the nation — the entire Pacific Coast, much of the Northeast and large interior cities like Chicago and Minneapolis — where Republican lawmakers do not want to be seen with him.
Early voting patterns suggest that both sides are energized, said Ben Stuckart, the Spokane City Council president, who supports Ms. Brown.
“The more solid D’s are turning out high and the more solid R’s are turning out high, which kind of goes to the hardening of divisions,” he said.
There’s a history in the district of tossing out veteran politicians in favor of new blood. Mr. Foley famously lost his seat in the House in 1994 — the first sitting House speaker to lose his district since the mid-1800s. But the dynamic is different this time because both women have long political records — Ms. Brown in the state legislature, Ms. Rodgers in Congress — that can be bragged about, or attacked by the other side.
An Open Seat
Scanning a map, the Eighth District looks like it could be one of those gerrymandered snake districts, winding around to find certain kinds of voters. But the reality is that by winding through central Washington, the district captures much of the demographic drama that rolls through the Pacific Northwest in general. It has affluent Democratic-leaning voters from the techie eastern suburbs of Seattle, union workers from Boeing around the company’s huge airplane factory in Renton, and conservative farmers and retirees to the east, many of whom have left the bigger coastal cities.
As a measure of its divisions, the Eighth has a higher percentage of foreign-born residents than the state as a whole, many of them agricultural workers in the fruit industry, but also more rich people, with a higher percentage of households earning more than $200,000 than the state as a whole, according to the census.
Dino Rossi, a Republican who was almost elected governor in 2004 in one of the closest elections in state history (Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, won by 129 votes then beat Mr. Rossi again, more handily, in a rematch four years later) is facing Kim Schrier, a pediatrician and first-time candidate who has made health care her issue. They are competing to succeed Dave Reichert, a Republican, who is retiring.
The district, historically Republican in Congress but won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, is seen by both parties as the most likely of the state’s three competitive seats to flip. But with the margin of victory expected to be tight whoever wins, voters have been pummeled by weeks of advertising in what has become one of the most expensive House races in the nation, with more than $26 million raised by candidates and outside groups.
A voter-registration drive this fall on the campus of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, one of the district’s biggest towns, might make a difference in a close race, said Ellensburg’s mayor, Bruce Tabb. Or not. College students are inconsistent voters, at best.
“I’ve talked to students who seem to be more engaged,” said Mr. Tabb, who has a nonpartisan office and has not endorsed either candidate. “But it’s a very, very challenging thing, I think, to actually determine what that impact is going to be.”
Portland’s Little Brother
A key thing to know about the Third District is that a significant chunk of it is actually part of the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area. While Portland is in another state, on the south bank of the Columbia River, and is famously liberal, the northern bank suburbs in the Third District, in and around Vancouver, Wash., in Clark County, are traditionally conservative.
But Portland’s little brother suburb has been growing up.
“Clark County is the housing pressure release valve for the tri-county Portland region,” said Thomas Kimpel, a senior analyst at the Washington State Office of Financial Management, which prepares demographic and economic research.
Vancouver was the fourth fastest growing city in the state over the last decade, partly from Portlanders crossing the river to find cheaper housing, or perhaps for the taxes. (Washington has no income tax.) The economy of the district has also moved away from its old base of timber, agriculture and shipping toward a more Portland-like economy of tech and services.
Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler — a Republican and a protégée of Ms. Rodgers in the Fifth District, for whom she worked as a legislative aide before running for office herself — is facing Carolyn Long, an associate professor of politics, philosophy and public affairs at Washington State University Vancouver.
Ms. Beutler only beat Ms. Long by about 7 percentage points in the August primary.
The 2016 presidential election map provides another clue to the shifting dynamics in Washington State. All the counties won by Mrs. Clinton except two were clustered in the state’s northwest corner, in Seattle and its neighboring counties. One of two Clinton outliers was Whitman County in Ms. Rodger’s district — home to Washington State University. The other was Clark County, in Ms. Beutler’s district.
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