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Saturday, July 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:18 A.M.

Competitive bids for state offices sought in "political year"

By Andrew Garber and Ralph Thomas
Seattle Times staff reporters

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OLYMPIA — The 2004 election is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in years, with the major parties working to field more candidates than in the past, even in races where they seem likely to lose.

"In a more highly charged political year, they don't want to have uncontested races," Secretary of State Sam Reed said.

All 98 House seats and 26 of 49 Senate seats are on the ballot this year. Although the state's deadline for filing was 5 p.m. yesterday, the state's parties can still file candidates for uncontested races through Friday.

In the battle for control of the Legislature, both the Republican and Democratic parties are trying to limit the number of uncontested races. In 2002, more than a third of the candidates ran for office unopposed. This year, the chairmen of both parties said they expect only about 10 percent of the races to be uncontested.

"I see this as an election where the Democrats are on the offense," said Paul Berendt, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "We're contesting many more legislative seats and statewide offices and congressional seats in the hopes of sweeping Democrats into office in places that have been more difficult for us."

Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said the GOP is being equally aggressive. "Republicans are poised to have a big, big year," he said, noting that the Bush campaign has made Washington one of its target states.

"Because this state is on President Bush's list, that gives the resources of both people and money to make every Republican campaign stronger," he said.

Vance noted his party even has a Republican candidate, Mark Griswold, running against state House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle. State records show this would be the first time Chopp has faced a Republican opponent since he was elected in 1994.

In some cases, candidates will have to slog through hotly contested primaries before heading into the general election.

For example, in Seattle's liberal 36th District, Democratic Rep. Helen Sommers, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, is facing Alice Woldt, a community activist backed by the state's biggest labor groups.

And across the state in Spokane, two prominent Republicans, Brian Murray and state Rep. Brad Benson, are competing for the GOP spot in the District 6 state Senate race. Murray was appointed to the seat last year after former Senate Majority Leader Jim West stepped down after he was elected Spokane's mayor. Benson has been a House member since 1997.
 
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The winner of the Murray-Benson race will face Democrat Laurie Dolan, who lost to West in 2002.

Other key legislative races to watch in the general election include:

• District 45: Republican Roger Stark of Redmond is running against Democrat Larry Springer of Kirkland to fill an open seat left by former state Rep. Laura Ruderman, D-Kirkland. Ruderman stepped down to run as the Democratic candidate for secretary of state.

• District 49: Republican incumbent Sen. Don Carlson, R-Vancouver, faces Democrat Craig Pridemore of Vancouver, a Clark County commissioner.

At the top of the state ticket for both parties, there were no big last-minute filing surprises yesterday.

Though 11 people — including perennial candidate Mike the Mover — filed to run for governor, only three have a legitimate shot at replacing departing Gov. Gary Locke. Attorney General Christine Gregoire and King County Executive Ron Sims are competing for the Democratic nomination. The winner will face former state Sen. Dino Rossi, who is trying to become the first Republican elected governor since 1980.

The race to replace Gregoire as attorney general has sparked two big primary contests. On the Republican side, Metropolitan King County Councilman Rob McKenna is running against Mike Vaska, a civic activist and attorney who lives in Issaquah. Former state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn and former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran are competing for the Democratic spot on the general-election ballot.

Other key state races include:

Secretary of state: Ruderman, who has been in the state House for three terms, is challenging incumbent Republican Sam Reed.

Lands commissioner: Republican incumbent Doug Sutherland faces a challenge from state Rep. Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds.

Superintendent of public instruction: Judith Billings, who held the post from 1989-1997, is trying to unseat the incumbent, Terry Bergeson.

Supreme Court: Six candidates filed for the seat held by Justice Faith Ireland, who is retiring. Incumbent Justices Richard Sanders and Barbara Madsen will both face challengers.

On the federal side, U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt and Reed Davis, former King County GOP chairman, are competing for the chance to challenge Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

Meanwhile, the state's nine congressional seats drew 35 candidates.

But only two of those races are expected to be competitive. Seven candidates are vying in the 8th Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn is stepping down. And four candidates are competing to replace Nethercutt in the 5th District.

Snohomish County filings

Incumbents filed to run for re-election in all seven legislative districts that include Snohomish County. Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, will run unopposed in the 21st District.

Berkey, a former state representative, filled the 38th District Senate seat vacated by Aaron Reardon when he was elected Snohomish County executive last year.

Reps. Brian Sullivan, D-Mukilteo; John McCoy, D-Marysville; Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish; and Sens. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, and Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, all filed to run again.

McCoy's race promises to be interesting. He is being challenged in the primary by Randall Rike of Everett, who lost in the primary against him in 2002. Republican Kim Halvorson, a co-founder of a property-rights group on the Tulalip Reservation, is also challenging McCoy, who is a leader in the Tulalip Tribes.

Two candidates filed to run for the open commissioner position in the Snohomish County Public Utility District. Retired PUD employee Toni Olson filed for the seat vacated by Cynthia First, as did Betty Neighbors, who ran for Snohomish County executive last year.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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