WASHINGTON State approaches perhaps its most volatile election in political history.
Among the new faces after the coming election: a United States senator, four of the state's nine US representatives, the governor, several other key state officeholders, and about one-third of the state Legislature. Women candidates feature prominently in many races in this traditionally progressive state, and voters also will address key ballot initiatives on term limits and campaign spending.
"There's going to be tremendous turnover at every level," says Margaret Colony, president of the state League of Women Voters. "It'll be a challenge for voters because there are so many new names on the ballot."
State Democratic Chairwoman Karen Marchioro notes "some blockbuster fights here," and state Republican Party spokesman Peter Schalestock agrees that "at all levels, it's really historic."
There is also an unusual stirring among the electorate this year, which adds to the uncertainty caused by so many new candidates. Washington has seen a considerable influx of new residents in recent years. The state has a new "motor-voter" law making it much easier to register to vote, and it also has liberalized the circumstances under which absentee ballots may be obtained. As a result, turnout is expected to be higher than the national average.
"Not only is there a whole new constituency out there, but it's not familiar with the incumbents," says University of Washington political scientist David Olsen.
Gov. Bill Clinton is well ahead in presidential polling here, notes Professor Olsen, but "Clinton's lead won't reach too far down," for two key reasons: traditionally independent voters who often split their ticket, and relatively weak political parties in a state where voters do not register by party.
Still, Olsen predicts that, with five fairly "safe" congressional seats, Democrats "in all likelihood" will win in seven of Washington's nine House districts. He also says Washington could well send three women to Congress, including former state Republican Chairwoman Jennifer Dunn. Many female candidates
At the state level, there also are strong women candidates for attorney general, insurance commissioner, commissioner of public land, and commissioner of public instruction. In addition, says Olsen, "Washington ranks fifth or sixth among state legislatures [in percentage of women officeholders], and that's going to go nowhere but up in this race."
The contest that has gotten the most attention is for a US senator to replace Democrat Brock Adams, who is retiring in the wake of a sex scandal. The race pits five-term Republican US Rep. Rod Chandler against Democratic state Sen. Patty Murray.
The diminutive Ms. Murray likes to tell the story of how a state legislator years ago told her she couldn't make a difference because "you're just a mom in tennis shoes." She won a hard-fought primary election for the US Senate by beating a seven-term congressman., thanks largely to an army of 3,500 volunteers.
Murray and Mr. Chandler have clear differences on the issues. She wants to cut defense spending by $100 billion over five years; he favors a balanced budget amendment and line-item veto. He calls the Endangered Species Act "a tool for preservation extremists"; she says that "the long-term interests of timber communities will not be served by gutting or watering down this act."
Chandler is a moderate Republican who voted against the MX missile and aid to the Nicaraguan contras. He and his opponent both are pro-choice, but Chandler favors parental notification for minors seeking abortions. Senate race targeted
Chandler has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce and small business groups, Murray by labor unions, environmentalists, and women's organizations. The national Democratic Party also has targeted Murray's race. She is getting a string of high-level visits from prominent senators, including Senate majority leader George Mitchell of Maine.
Murray is leading in most polls, but not by an insurmountable margin. Republican spokesman Peter Schalestock acknowledges that Chandler is trailing at the moment, but he says, "I think his experience and qualifications will put him over the top at the end."
An even tighter race is for a governor to replace Democrat Booth Gardner, who declined to run for reelection after two terms in Olympia. The Democratic candidate is former US Rep. Mike Lowry; the Republican is state Attorney General Ken Eikenberry. The race, says Professor Olsen, "pits a classic liberal ... against a classic conservative."
The main issue here is state spending. Washington faces a $1.6 billion shortfall for the coming 1993-95 biennium (out of a total state budget of about $17 billion).
Mr. Eikenberry promises to "reinvent government to invoke intelligently drastic changes in the way government operates." This includes an "immediate cap" on state employment, then a 20 percent reduction through attrition over four years. Democrat Lowry acknowledges the state's financial difficulties, but he also argues for more spending in some areas, including education and health care.
Republican Eikenberry has the edge in recent polling, but analysts say this race too will come down to the wire.