As noted before, the recent midterm election was confusing and momentous enough that to describe it in full seems a daunting task, especially since not all the results are in. So I will continue to describe races that I am personally knowledgeable about. And such a race is Washington's 3rd Congressional district, a district that covers the southwest corner of Washington, and where I have spent many formative years of my life. There were 438 elections this Tuesday, but hopefully by writing about this single one, I can provide some insight into all of them. There is one interesting thing about this election: of all the districts on the West Coast, this is the only one that Republicans managed to flip. While this could just be because many of those districts (all the ones in California), are extensively gerrymandered, it could also be that the Republican wave this cycle was mostly ignored by West Coast voters.
The candidates in the race were Jaime Herrera, a state legislature from Clark County, and Denny Heck, a former state legislature and small business owner from the Olympia area. Washington has a jungle primary where only two candidates, regardless of party, are selected to run in the main election. Herrera and Heck were the winners in the primary, and advanced to the main election.
Washington-3 had been held, but not tightly, by a Democrat since 1998. The incumbent, Brian Baird, had retired, and given the nature of the electoral cycle, it seemed like a good pick-up for the Republican Party.
As I said about the Oregon Governor's Race, there was not any dramatic moments in the campaign as far as the candidates themselves went, and the election would be more about demographics than anything else. Denny Heck did have a good campaign slogan in "Give Congress Heck"; and Jaime Herrera had the advantages of being young (32) and Hispanic---two demographic groups that Republicans are challenged with. Washington's 3rd Congressional District consists of one liberal stronghold, the Olympia area; one conservative stronghold, Lewis County; a number of old timber and industrial areas that have a strong union presence, but are not strongly liberal; and Clark County, a very rapidly-growing suburban area of Portland, Oregon. Clark County is the real prize, and its politics and demographics are fairly close to the state, and country, as a whole. While some residents of Clark County might have absorbed some liberal ideas from Multnomah County, Oregon by osmosis, on the whole, it is very centrist. In a good year, or even a normal year, Democrats can hold it. In 2010, they could not, and Jaimie Herrera managed to capture the county, and the district. Her final margin was 53-47.
One of the interesting things about the election was that it perhaps had the most votes cast of any district in the country, outside of the At-Large Districts of Montana or The Dakotas. A total of over 280,000 votes were cast, quite a bit for a mid-term election. This is because Washington's vote-by-mail system usually leads to high participation, and because the district has been growing in population since it was last redistricted.
The fact that Washington state will probably get another Congressional District, and that this could radically alter the characteristics of the 3rd District, make the victory hear somewhat non-indicative of future events. Depending on just how and where Washington has grown, and how honest and clever the redistricting plan is, the district could become either much more liberal, or much more conservative. It seems likely that the Olympia area might be put into a district with other Puget Sound areas, which would make the district much more conservative. It is also possible that Lewis County, or other conservative, rural areas will be redrawn into another district. If that is the case, the district will probably remain a swing district.
This brings me to the second important point about the district: its victory does not "mean" anything as far as the overall tendencies of the district as a whole. The fact that Jaime Herrera had 17,000 more voters choose her in a mid-term election does not mean that the people of Southwest Washington are en masse involved in a populist, right-wing revolution. It means that this particular cycle, the suburban voters of Clark County found her slightly more palatable than her counterpart. Which is not to minimize the fact that she won: it just means that her winning now doesn't mean anything has changed permanently. If the results of elections showed a permanent change in the common beliefs, we wouldn't need to have them (at least) every year.