Did Republicans give up on the 5th District?

The sole Republican candidate has raised only $3,100.

In a stark departure from the past four decades, in which the Republican Party had a firm hold on the 5th Legislative District, only one Republican candidate is running for a seat in the three state offices representing the district in 2020.

Ken Moninski is the only Republican in the race, challenging incumbent Rep. Bill Ramos (D) for the district’s first House seat. Rep. Lisa Callan (D) is running unopposed for the second House seat. In the Senate, Sen. Mark Mullett is waging an intraparty campaign against fellow Democrat Ingrid Anderson.

The district covers a large portion of eastern King County and the Snoqualmie Valley with Issaquah, Renton and Maple Valley on the district’s western edge.

In 2016, Republican donors funneled $437,000 into the two House races in the district, and secured both. In 2018, despite Republicans spending more than $524,000 on the two House races, their Democratic challengers won both seats in the 5th District, joining Sen. Mullett in Olympia to represent the district. This year, the sole Republican candidate has raised little more than $3,100.

With this election, both in terms of candidates and spending, the Republican party is scarce in the district.

“I was shocked, I was really shocked when they just didn’t even contest two out of the three races,” said KC Shankland, 5th Legislative District Democrats chair. “The switch is just remarkable.

He described the district as “at best a purple district” until 2018. Voters in the district sent Democratic Sen. Mullett to Olympia in 2013, where he’s been ever since.

But prior to the 2018 election, the last Democrat to represent the 5th District in the state House was Shirley Rector in 1989, and Geraldine McCormick before her in 1981. Although the district reliably sent Democrats to the House throughout the 1970s, it swung red during the Reagan administration. The last time Democrats controlled all three House and Senate seats in the 5th District was 1972.

Despite recent dominance in the 5th District, the Republicans were unable to field candidates in 2020.

“They’re afraid that if they run, people have a hard time distinguishing between the president and your candidate running for the Legislature,” King County Republican Party Chair Cynthia Cole said.

Potential candidates feared running a losing campaign in the district after the Democratic victories of 2018. Democrats were swept into power across the state, gaining control of the House, Senate and Governor’s Office. And nationally, Democrats gained control of the Congressional House of Representatives, with their base angered by Trump administration policies.

Locally, two Republicans ran and lost their 5th District election bids in 2018.

Paul Graves (R) won the second state House seat in 2016 after his predecessor, Chad Magendanz (R), chose not to run for re-election. Graves then lost his seat to Callan in 2018. Jay Rodne (R), who was first elected to the district’s first House seat in 2004, decided not to seek another term in 2018. Magendanz ran as the Republican candidate for that position, but was defeated by Ramos.

None of these three Republicans ran for office in 2020

Cole supports Trump, but said while campaigning in 2018, she found many Republican voters who said they wouldn’t vote for any Republican candidate because of the president. But she’s hopeful that traditional Republican voters will return to the fold this election.

But a lack a candidates in the 5th District isn’t the only problem for Republicans. There’s a lack of funding too.

As of July 30, Moninski had raised only $3,100 in cash, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. All of his funding has come from individual and small donors.

Moninski is in a three-way race for the first state House seat with Ramos and third-party candidate Cyrus Krohn (Unity Restoration Party). Krohn is largely self-financing his primary campaign, providing about $4,000 of the $7,000 in total cash and in-kind funding reported by the Public Disclosure Commission.

Both candidates’ war chests are a fraction of Ramos’ campaign fund, which has raised more than $105,000 in cash contributions alone. Half of his funding has come from individual donors, some $30,000 from political action committees, and the rest from unions, tribes, businesses and the Democratic Party.

Fellow Democrat Callan has raised some $43,200 in cash donations in her uncontested race for the second House seat in the 5th District. In the Senate race featuring two Democrats, Sen. Mullett has raised more than $258,000 in cash contributions, and Anderson has brought in more than $96,000.

County Republican chair Cole said funding for the local party this primary season has been challenging. Right now, the they’re focusing on keeping their Bellevue office open, along with funding rallies, she said. Restrictions on gatherings from the coronavirus pandemic are hurting their ability to raise money.

It’s a problem Washington 5th District Republican Party Treasurer Joe Merritt sees locally too, especially when compared to Democratic candidates.

“Until the Republicans do a better job of fundraising, I think it’s going to be more challenging fielding candidates,” Merritt said.

Moninski, a businessman with no previous political experience, said he’s hoping more donors and contributions emerge if he wins the Aug. 4 primary.

“I am hopeful that if the third party candidate does not advance, and I do, that the majority of those voters will come on board and vote for me in the general election,” Moninski said.

While he’s sure national politics will impact his campaign, he thinks the reaction to Gov. Jay Inslee’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic will mean more to local voters. Inslee’s restrictions on businesses and a mandate requiring the wearing of masks have drawn the ire of some state Republicans.

The King County Republican Party has helped Moninski’s campaign by connecting him with volunteer groups and developing an outreach strategy. But so far, no major funding has been reported from Republican party organizations, or wealthy donors.

William Casey, communications director for the King County Democrats, views what’s happening in the district as a microcosm of a national trend.

“You’re seeing more people sort of in the suburbs realizing that the Republican Party as it’s currently constituted doesn’t represent their values, and recognizing that they have a better option,” he said.

Casey thinks the 2018 election was a turning point for the district — and one that could flip it from a Republican stronghold to a Democratic one, both now and in the future.

“They’ve really leaned into this cult of personality with the president, and made that sort of their only real defining characteristic,” Casey said. “It’s instructive to see how quickly the Republican Party is abandoning any attempts to moderate to win back these voters.”

In his view, the King County Republican Party seemed to give up on the 5th District, rather than try and create a separation between themselves and the president.

Cole dismissed the idea that the county Republicans were abandoning the district, but said they’re also not shying away from their support of President Trump.

It’s yet to be seen if the Democratic enthusiasm from 2018 will transfer to this year, but a recent poll by King 5 shows Democratic candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General all have commanding leads over Republican rivals. Some 55 percent of surveyed voters said they would vote for Inslee, with Republican Loren Culp, the next highest, coming in at 9 percent.

And voter turnout was high in the district during the last election. Some 78.7% of voters in the 5th District returned their ballots in the 2018 general election, about four points higher than the countywide turnout. Ramos won his seat with 51.5 percent of the vote, and Callan garnered 52.2 percent.

Did Republicans give up on the 5th District?