50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 42. Washington

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

42. Washington

Capital: Olympia

Nickname: The Evergreen State

Motto: Alki


About the State

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, Washington was home to various Native American tribes including the Chinook, Lummi and Makah around the coastal regions; and the Cayuse, Nez Perce and Spokane in the plateau areas.  The first person from the Old World to be recorded as having set foot in Washington was the Spaniard, Juan Perez, who landed there in 1774, four years before the British explorer, Captain James Cook reported sighting Cape Flattery.  Over the next few decades, traders and pioneers from several countries – including Britain, Russia, Spain and the newly formed United States – conducted expeditions there, including Lewis and Clark, who reached Washington in 1805.

As part of the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1919, Spain had ceded all rights to land about the 42nd parallel (the border between the modern-day states of California and Oregon), and the year before, Britain and the United States had set the 49th parallel (which constitutes the boundary between the US and Canada) as the border between the two nations, but only as far as the Continental Divide, with Oregon Country being jointly occupied by them both.  As more American settlers moved to the region via the Oregon Trail, they clamoured for it to become annexed by the United States and, in his inaugural address in 1845, President James K. Polk expressed his belief that the US was entitled to Oregon Country.  Some in the Democratic Party were clamouring for Polk to fight for the boundary with Britain to be set at “54’40” – which at the time was the border with Russian America, and now is the line between Alaska and Canada – but the two countries resolved the dispute in 1846, with the 49th parallel being (approximately) used from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

When the Oregon Territory was organised in 1848, it included all of Washington, but the growing population led Congress to separate it into its own Territory in 1853.  Between 1847 and 1855, the United States fought a war with the Cayuse tribe, a conflict that was initiated by the Whitman Massacre which took place at the Whitman Mission, located where the city of Walla Walla now stands.  Marcus Whitman was a missionary among the Cayuse at Waiilatpu and, as a physician and religious leader, he was considered a shaman by the indigenous population.  When an outbreak of measles at the camp resulted in the deaths of half of the Native Americans, who had no natural immunity to the disease, Whitman was blamed by the Cayuse and they killed him, his wife Narcissa, and 12 other settlers.  The tribe handed over five people they claimed to be responsible for the massacre to the United States in 1850 but, despite their trial and execution for the crime, the conflict continued until 1855, by which time the number of Cayuse was greatly reduced and they had given up most of their land.

During the 1850s, settlers were attracted to Washington Territory for the lumber industry and many single young men also moved to the Puget Sound area, where the city of Seattle was established in 1853 (though it was first called Duwamps) and in which gambling, liquor and prostitution were omnipresent.  In 1889, Washington became the 42nd state of the Union, joining within 10 days of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.  Although women had been allowed to vote when it was a territory, their suffrage was revoked as part of the state’s first constitution, though they did get it back in 1910, ten years before the 19th Amendment was passed guaranteeing females the right nationally.

Washington is the 18th biggest state in area and, with just over 6.8 million residents, ranks 13th in terms of population.  Agriculture is a major part of the state’s economy, with it producing the most amount of raspberries, apples, sweet cherries and pears in the nation, and it ranks second in wine output behind California.  75% of Washington’s energy comes from hydroelectric power – of which it is the leading producer in the United States – and its ports handle 8% of the country’s exports, as well as receiving 6% of the imports.  Major companies headquartered within the state include Starbucks, Boeing, and Microsoft – the latter of whom’s chairman, Bill Gates, is resident of Washington and consistently ranked as one of the richest men in the United States.  Seattle is home to two “Big Four” sports teams – the Seattle Mariners (MLB) and Seattle Seahawks (NFL).

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 12

2008 Result: Obama 57.4% McCain 40.7%

Latest Poll: Obama +13%

Starting in 1988, Washington has voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate in each of the last six elections, with this year’s ballot likely to go the same way – President Obama carried the state by a wide margin in 2008 and is all but certain to do so again this November.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one Senate election in Washington this year, with incumbent Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell running against Republican candidate, Michael Baumgartner, currently serving as a State Senator.  Cantwell is heavily favoured to win a third term.

After redistricting as a result of the 2010 census, Washington’s number of Representatives in the House will increase by 1, starting in January 2013.  The current delegation is made up of 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans, with the ratio expected to be 6:4 after the election as the Democrats are expected to win the new district, with the other 9 remaining with their current party affiliation.

Governor: With Governor Christine Gregoire (D) not seeking re-election after serving two terms in office, 2013 will be the first time since 2005 that the state of Washington will have a male as either Governor or Senator.  The candidates in November are the Democrat, Jay Inslee, and Republican Rob McKenna, with the race currently considered a toss-up.

Ballot Measures: Washington is one of four states that will vote on the legalization of gay marriage, with the measure (Amendment 74) expected to pass, but the latest poll showed 49% of people in favour, with 45% against.  Also on the ballot is Initiative 502, that would legalize the production, possession and distribution of small amounts of marijuana, with the substance subsequently being taxed. The initiative is expected to pass by a wide margin.

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