As in most Pacific Coast states, Washington's political heritage is Republican. But these Republicans tended to be from the progressive wing of the party, which formed a loud minority at the beginning of the 20th century. FDR brought these voters into the Democratic fold during the 1930s and '40s, and the state's Republican Party saw its dominance in the state decline. Today the Democratic dominance in the greater Seattle area gives the party an advantage in statewide elections, although Republicans are strong east of the Cascade Mountains.
Maria Cantwell is the state's junior senator. She was elected to a single term in the House in 1992 before falling in the 1994 landslide. She went into business with a political ally after her defeat and emerged a multi-millionaire. In 2000 she re-entered politics with a challenge to Sen. Slade Gorton and won by a narrow margin. In 2006, political newcomer Mike McGavick looked as though he might give Cantwell a tough race, but his candidacy imploded after a relatively short time.
Her opponent, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, hasn't really shown an ability to end the Democrats' 12-year stranglehold on the state's Senate seats.