Voters send strong message to both Washingtons

Republicans take control of the US House and have a shot at a majority in the state Senate.

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The dramatic power shift in Congress, where Republicans picked up an estimated 60 seats and a clear majority in the House on Tuesday, moves the agenda in Washington closer to the political center. While the GOP now controls the House, Democrats still have the majority of the Senate -- albeit by a slim margin now. President Obama will have to reach out to Republicans and seek consensus in order to move forward.

But in the other Washington, a significant shift in power appears to be on the horizon. Republicans might even capture enough seats in the state Senate to take control, which would propel current Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, into the Senate's top spot.

The state House will remain in the hands of the Democrats, but Election Day returns indicate the majority will be smaller.

To gain a majority, Republicans would need to pick up seven seats in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 31-18 margin, or 13 seats in the House, where Democrats hold a 61-37 majority. The Seattle Times reported today that Republican candidates took early leads in a number of closely watched races for seats that have been held by Democratic incumbents, or by Democrats retiring from the Legislature.

Even if Republicans don't gain control of the Senate, a smaller majority would give Hewitt and other GOP Senate leaders a seat at the table when the big decisions are made. It effectively moves the Senate closer to the political center.

The strong Republican showing in Washington state and the nation is a clear indication that voters are not happy with direction the country has been headed with Democrats in control.

The GOP, however, should not take the strong showing as a mandate to take a hard right -- politically speaking.

We continue to believe that the majority of voters in Washington state are politically moderate, leaning slightly to the right in Eastern Washington and the rural parts of Western Washington and slightly to the left in the big cities in Puget Sound region.

Democrats, too, should take notice. If they retain their majorities in the Legislature they need to reach out to Republicans and work to gain a consensus, particularly in putting together a state budget. The voters, as evidenced by the crushing defeat of the income-tax initiative and the strong showing for the repeal of the candy tax, want lawmakers to continue to cut state government.

That means significant, long-lasting and, yes, painful cuts will have to be made when lawmakers convene in January. The Great Recession has slowed tax collections creating a revenue shortfall.

Voters across the nation, too, seem to be calling for Congress to reduce spending and take action to reduce the growing national debt.

Now that power is divided in Congress, neither party can point to the other as the cause of the nation's trouble. Republicans now have power and the expectation is they should use it responsibly.

The often silent majority -- the moderate middle -- spoke loudly on Election Day.

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