Ronald Reagan and Republicans win elections on November 4, 1980.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 10/30/2003
  • Essay 5591
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On November 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) and other Republicans win elections at the national and state levels. Reagan defeats incumbent Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) for president. Slade Gorton (b. 1928) unseats veteran U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) to help establish a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, the first since 1954. Republicans also take the governor's office and the state House of Representatives.

Presidential Race

Television networks projected the win for Reagan at approximately 4:30 p.m. and President Carter conceded his defeat at 6:50 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. Seattle area polling places then witnessed a drop in voter traffic, but observers doubted that the voters who stayed home would have made a difference in any of the races. King County voter turnout was 80 percent and the state turnout was 79 percent.

Reagan ran on a campaign of "getting government off the backs of the American People" (The Seattle Times) and a tougher U.S. stance in foreign relations. Although not raised by Reagan as a campaign issue, President Carter's failure to resolve the Iran Hostage Crisis damaged his leadership.

Magnuson's Defeat

Warren Magnuson had been a Democratic senator from Washington for 36 years and a member of the House of Representatives for eight years before that. He had risen to the top of the Senate leadership and to Chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and he was able to shepherd legislation beneficial to Washington and the Pacific Northwest. Gorton attacked Magnuson for "losing touch with the people" (The Seattle Times) and for his support of high government spending. Observers agreed that voters took Magnuson's age, 75, into consideration. As he conceded, Magnuson told supporters, "Probably, he's [Gorton'] done me a favor, but whether he's done you a favor remains to be seen" (The Seattle Times).

Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and narrowed the margin of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to 33 seats.

Republican John Spellman (1926-2018), King County Executive, bested Democratic State Senator Jim McDermott (b. 1936) who had defeated incumbent Governor Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) in the primary. Republican Ken Eikenberry (b. 1932) won a three-way race for state Attorney General. Republicans broke a tie and took solid control of the state House of Representatives. Democrats held on to the state Senate by a one-vote margin following the election, but Republicans gained control of that chamber too when Senator Peter von Reichbauer switched parties during the 1981 session.


In Seattle, voters defeated Initiative 24 which would have established rent controls. King County voters approved a .3 percent transit subsidy sales tax. A state initiative banning certain types of nuclear waste passed, as did referenda establishing a disciplinary system for judges, and approving bonds for drinking water and waste disposal. Senate Joint Resolution 132, dubbed the "sage brush rebellion" measure, would have the state lay claim to 311,000 acres of federal land in Eastern Washington, but was defeated.

Statewide totals were as follows:


  • Ronald Reagan (R) - 865,244
  • Jimmy Carter (D) - 650,193
  • John Anderson (I) - 185,073

    U.S. Senator
  • Slade Gorton (R) - 936,317
  • Warren Magnuson (D) - 792,052

  • John Spellman (R) - 981,083
  • Jim McDermott (D) - 749,813

      Attorney General
  • Ken Eikenberry (R) - 769,116
  • John Rosellini (D) - 262,281
  • John Miller (I) - 631,415


  • Initiative 382 banning certain nuclear waste:
    Yes - 532,178
      No - 384,419


  • SJR 132 "sage brush rebellion:"
    Yes - 579,060 
     No - 864,850


"Landslide victory for Reagan," The Seattle Times, November 5, 1980, p. A-1; Peter Rinearson, "Republicans Take Over House," Ibid., ,

p. A-26; G.O.P.'s Eikenberry wins 3-way race for attorney general," Ibid., p. A-26; "Concession: Carter cast pall over late voters in state," Ibid., p. A-26;"N-waste initiative gets big yes vote," Ibid., p. A-27; "Voter turnout here reaches 80 per cent," Ibid., p. D-2; Susan Gilmore, "'Reasoned conservative' will be new face in House," Ibid., p. A-28; "Seattle emphatically rejects rent control," Ibid., p. A-28; Richard W. Larsen, Jay Perkins, "House: Republicans cut Demo margin by 33 seats," Ibid., p. A-8; "Spellman, in Late Surge, Wins Governorship," Ibid., p. A-25; Richard W. Larsen, "Quiet Switch: Frustrated Voters Bounce Democrats," Ibid., p. A-28; Steve Johnston, "Gorton takes Magnuson's Job," Ibid., p. A-24; Dean Katz, "Magnuson, supporters stunned by defeat," Ibid., p. A-24; John White, "Northwest Has Lost Political Clout in D.C.," Ibid., p. A-21; "Metro Tax Believed a Winner," Ibid., November 5, 1080, p. C-2; Peter Rinearson, "Demos Hold State Senate...G.O.P. Controls House," Ibid., p. C-2; Washington Secretary of State, "Abstract of Votes: 1980 General Election," Mimeograph (Olympia: State of Washington, 1980).
Note: This essay was revised slightly on July 20, 2009.

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