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Proposed Washington State Map Gives GOP Hope

A bipartisan proposal for new Congressional district lines revealed today gives Washington state Republicans an opportunity to split the delegation come 2013.

Two of the four voting members of the Washington Redistricting Commission released a 10-district map that insiders believe includes one tossup district, five districts that favor Democrats and four districts that favor Republicans. Incumbents likely benefiting should the commission approve this map are Republican Reps. Dave Reichert and Jaime Herrera Beutler, whose districts get a few points better, and Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen.

The plan gives the state a majority-minority district for the first time, the 9th. The new 10th district, added in reapportionment, would be based in Olympia’s Thurston County, and the open 1st district, stretching north to Canada from the Seattle suburbs, would likely be the most competitive territory in the state for the next 10 years.

With Rep. Jay Inslee (D) vacating the 1st district to run for governor, the mapmakers had some leeway to craft the new map without putting any incumbents in totally foreign territory. Former Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican commissioner, and attorney Tim Ceis, a Democratic commissioner, released the plan at a morning commission meeting in Olympia that was streamed live online.

The two other voting members, who have been working on state legislative lines, had not seen the plan until the meeting, so it is now under review. Three of the four commissioners must approve the map by Sunday, and the state Legislature has until Feb. 10 to make any minor changes. At that point, the map automatically becomes law.

The fact that commissioners from both parties came to an agreement is a strong indication the final map will not vary much from this proposal, but it could still change.

During today’s hearing, Gorton and Ceis both said the open and redrawn 1st district will draw plenty of attention from candidates of both parties. It’s an area that Republicans won in 2010 but that Democrats carried in 2008, according to a source familiar with the map.

“It may be the most evenly divided Congressional district in the United States of America,” Gorton said, smiling. “It certainly is that in the state of Washington. It has no incumbent in it, and I would imagine it will have a lot of candidates.”

“That will be a very competitive district,” Ceis added. “I believe it is a swing Democratic district. … It will be a race to watch in 2012, there is no doubt about that.”

The new lines appear to have drawn Republican John Koster, who came close to upsetting Larsen last year and is running again in 2012, into the 1st. Businessman James Watkins is the only announced Republican candidate in the district.

The list of Democrats running in the 1st is lengthy and expected to get longer. Former Microsoft official Suzan DelBene, who lost to Reichert last year, is believed to be eyeing the district and would be a force thanks to her ability to self-fund. Already running are former two-time Congressional candidate Darcy Burner, state Sen. Steve Hobbs, state Rep. Roger Goodman, former state Rep. Laura Ruderman, activist Darshan Rauniyar and state Rep. Marko Liias, who one source said was drawn into Rep. Jim McDermott’s district.

Former Democratic Congressional candidate Denny Heck announced within minutes that he is running in the new 10th district, which includes most of Olympia’s Thurston County, much of Pierce County and Shelton in Mason County. Heck, the former state House majority leader, lost to Herrera Beutler in the open 3rd district last year.

Reichert, who has been the most vulnerable Republican in the state for several cycles, gets a few points safer with his district losing parts of King County and adding Kittitas and Chelan counties.

In a statement making his re-election bid official, Larsen touted the fact that he currently represents about 90 percent of the constituents in the redrawn 2nd district.

“The newly reconfigured Second Congressional District is a straightforward solution to the reality that the district needed to shrink in population,” he said. “I am excited to continue serving the district and run in the newly configured Second District in 2012.”

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