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Election 2020 
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Credit: Dyer Oxley / KUOW

10 things to watch for during Washington's 2020 election

While the nation's attention is focused on the presidential election, there are a handful of races and issues on Washington ballots that will greatly influence the future of local life.

KUOW's Austin Jenkins and David Hyde have rounded up a few to keep an eye on.

The Governor’s Race

caption: Incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee met with his GOP challenger, Republic Police Chief Loren Culp, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, for a debate sponsored by the Washington State Debate Coalition and broadcast statewide.
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Incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee met with his GOP challenger, Republic Police Chief Loren Culp, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, for a debate sponsored by the Washington State Debate Coalition and broadcast statewide.
Credit: NWPB / WA State Debate Coalition

Washington’s 2020 governor’s race is a lopsided matchup that pits a well-funded, two-term incumbent against a small town police chief from remote northeast Washington.

If Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee prevails, he would become the first three-term governor in Washington since Republican Dan Evans, who left office in 1977.

Inslee’s Republican challenger is Republic Police Chief Loren Culp. He's a first-time candidate best known for refusing to enforce Initiative 1639, the 2018 gun control measure that raised the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21.

Culp is a pro-Trump conservative who’s been fiercely critical of Inslee’s response to the Covid crisis, including his mask mandate. Running as an outsider and a “law and order” candidate, Culp has generated enthusiasm among gun-rights supporters and Conservatives.

Inslee has amassed a $8 million war chest, but is running a relatively low-key campaign. He hasn’t talked much about what he wants to accomplish in a third term, beyond leading the state’s recovery from the Covid pandemic and rebuilding the economy.

8th Congressional District

In 2018, pediatrician Kim Schrier became the first Democrat to win in the 8th Congressional District east of Seattle and in so doing helped flip the U.S. House of Representatives. This year she’s being challenged by Republican Jesse Jensen, a former program manager at Amazon and Microsoft, and an Army vet.

Schrier’s big campaign issues include Covid and health care, whereas Jensen talks more about taxes and the power of free markets.

It’s an extremely purple district, and both candidates often use the language of bipartisanship, which has a lot of appeal in the 8th.

Schrier bested Jensen in the August primary, and the Cook Political Report says she is “likely” to hang on to this seat, even if the race is “competitive.” But Jensen’s campaign thinks it has a shot, in part because Republican turnout in the primary was high.

Will Republican enthusiasm be enough to overcome the enthusiasm of voters who prefer Biden to Trump in this district that went for Clinton over Trump in 2016?

Secretary of State

Democrats have held Washington’s governor’s office for 36 years, but Republicans have had the Secretary of State’s office for going on 56 years. If incumbent Kim Wyman, a former Thurston County auditor, is re-elected to a third term she could extend the Republican lock on that office to a full six decades.

But Democratic challenger Gael Tarleton, who chairs the House Finance Committee, is working to end the Republican winning streak.

Wyman touts implementation of a new statewide voter registration system and, along with it, same-day voter registration. Recently, she's highlighted her emergency rule to require that ballots be sent out with a first-class stamp. That was in response to reports of possible post office delays.

Tarleton is a former Seattle port commissioner turned lawmaker who emphasizes her background in defense intelligence and national security, including dealing with threats from Russia. She says voting rights and election security are “under attack” and that the state needs to do more to address those threats.

Read more about the two candidates and the Secretary of State race here.

10th Congressional District

Democrats are (mostly) united in the fight to defeat President Donald Trump, but there’s also tension brewing over who should lead the party, and what it stands for.

That conflict is playing out in a race in the Olympia-Tacoma area, which is one of only two congressional races in the country that pits one Democrat against another this year.

Climate activist and state Representative Beth Doglio is running to the left of Former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who is a more business-friendly moderate.

On top of the Blue vs Blue drama, there are three possible firsts to watch for in this race starting on election night. If Strickland wins she would the first Korean-American woman ever elected to congress and the first Black person elected to congress from the Northwest.

If Doglio wins, she would be the first openly LGBTQ person sent to congress from Washington State.

State Senate race in 28th Legislative District in Pierce County

In the 28th District, veteran Republican lawmaker Steve O’Ban is fighting to hang onto his seat in the face of a formidable challenge from Democrat T’wina Nobles. The district includes Lakewood and University Place and has been trending blue in recent years.

O’Ban is a conservative attorney who has long been identified with his opposition to abortion rights. But this year it’s clear he’s trying to appeal to more liberal voters in his fast-changing district. A scan of O’Ban’s TV ads reveals a focus on his efforts to help the mentally ill and at-risk youth, and his willingness to “work across party lines.” However, O’Ban’s more conservative side comes out on other issues like his sponsorship of legislation in response to the Seattle protest zone known as the CHOP.

Nobles is a University Place School Board member and the President and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League. If elected, she would be the first Black state senator in Washington since Sen. Rosa Franklin retired in 2010. Nobles’ top issues include boosting teacher pay and reducing class size, increasing mental health funding and expanding affordable housing. She also says Washington’s current tax system “isn’t fair.”

The candidates in this race have drawn the most campaign cash of any state legislative contest this year.

Washington’s “Obama-to-Trump” Counties

In 2016, Donald Trump flipped 217 counties nationally from blue to red including five here in Washington State.

On the list is Grays Harbor County, which includes Abderdeen and the small mill town of McCleary. It hadn’t supported a Republican for president since Herbert Hoover back in 1928, but in other ways alienation from the Democrats occurred over a longer period of time.

The list of counties that flipped also includes Mason County, Pacific County, Cowlitz County, and Clallam County.

Will any of these counties flip back to the Democrats this year?

19th Legislative District: State Senate and State House races

State Sen. Dean Takko and state Rep. Brian Blake are two of the most conservative Democrats in the Legislature. But they may not be conservative enough for their district anymore. The August primary revealed their vulnerability as both candidates’ Republican challengers garnered a large share of the vote.

The electoral battles in the 19th highlight the urban-rural divide in Washington. On their campaign websites, Republican challengers Joel McEntire and Jeff Wilson frame their races, at least in part, as a fight against Seattle “style” policies and politics. On the flip side, Democrats Blake and Takko take pains in their campaign materials to burnish their bonafides as rural independents.

But this pair is not going down without a fight and both still have a significant financial advantage over their opponents. There’s also outside money playing in these races, with money coming in from political Republican-backed and labor-backed political action committees. You can find more on the outside money playing these races here.

3rd Congressional District

Incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler represents the 3rd Congressional District in Southeastern Washington. That makes her the last Republican standing along the entire West Coast in the lower 48.

This year she’s being challenged for the second time by Carolyn Long, who teaches at WSU-Vancouver.

Cook Political report says Herrera Beutler is “likely” to hang onto this seat, but we will be watching to see if Long can pull off an upset.

Spokane County

In a provocative Tweet, Dave Wasserman, a Cook Political Report editor, included Spokane County on a short list of places he thinks have a “decent-to-excellent” chance of flipping blue this year.

The county is centered on the city of Spokane, and surrounding, more suburban rural areas. The last time Spokane County voted for a Democrat for President was 1996, but they almost voted for President Barack Obama in 2008. So, it could happen if there is a big blue Biden wave this year.

Watch for evidence of hacking

State and local election officials in Washington say local election systems are secure and haven’t been hacked. Those assurances follow multiple reports in recent weeks of efforts by foreign actors to interfere with the upcoming national election.

So, will Washington’s election system be safe from any cyberattacks and other efforts aimed at disrupting the election or damaging voter confidence in the election results?

The Secretary of State’s Office recently warned of disinformation campaigns that could be unleashed right before and after Election Day.

On the cybersecurity front, officials say Washington’s systems are well protected. But everyone’s on high alert.

County auditors are meeting daily with the Secretary of State’s office and representatives from the state’s Election Security Operations Center. Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall also said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as Microsoft, are constantly monitoring election systems.

“Homeland Security is hovering over us like you can’t imagine,” Hall said.