From staff reports
Democrats’ hopes of retaking control of the state Senate appeared to be dashed as Tuesday’s vote count showed them trailing in several key races.
Incumbent Republicans, aided by large donations from their party and by independent spending, appeared to be holding on to their seats, despite cash infusions in several Democratic races by California billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer.
Democrats needed to pick up two seats to regain full control in Olympia. Rep. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, was winning easily in the 48th District race to replace retiring Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who sided with Republicans to give them a narrow majority the last two years.
But Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, Mason County, who also joined Republicans to form the Majority Coalition Caucus, was leading piano teacher Irene Bowling in the 35th District. Bowling, backed by the party as the “real” Democrat, narrowly won a three-way primary in August that included a conservative Republican. Sheldon appeared to have picked up most of those votes.
And while Democrats picked up Tom’s vacant seat in the 48th, they were losing the open seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide in the 30th District. Veteran state Rep. Mark Miloscia, a former Democrat running as a Republican, was defeating real-estate broker Shari Song. Both are from Federal Way.
In this year’s most expensive legislative campaign, incumbent Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, was leading Democratic challenger Matt Isenhower in the Eastside’s 45th District, 53 to 47 percentage points. Hill, a former Microsoft manager, raised almost $1 million to Isenhower’s $500,000. More than $1.4 million was spent by outside groups on the race.
Hill was credited with writing a 2015 budget that added $1 billion to the state’s education funding last session while freezing college tuition, but he was equivocal on climate change. He was one of three incumbent Republicans targeted by the Washington Conservation Voters, with help from Steyer.
Hill said there were still many ballots to count, but said he was happy with the initial returns.
”They’re strong numbers. Voters have seen me for four years. I think they appreciated my focus on education and my bipartisan approach,” said Hill from the GOP election-night party in Bellevue.
Isenhower’s campaign manager held out hope that he could close the gap.
“Turnout was so low and Democrats, we tend to vote later, so we are still feeling good about the race,” said Maria Leininger at the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, where Eastside Democrats gathered.
In another race targeted by environmentalists, incumbent Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, was well ahead of former Bellingham City Councilmember Seth Fleetwood in the 42nd District in Whatcom County.
The Washington Conservation Voters called Ericksen, chairman of the Senate energy committee, “the biggest roadblock to environmental progress in the state Legislature.”
On the campaign trail, Fleetwood called for an end to tax loopholes for oil refineries, while Ericksen argued such a change would hurt the district’s two refineries and eliminate thousands of local jobs. Ericksen, a six-term representative before being elected to the Senate in 2010, raised about $503,000 to Fleetwood’s $414,000, but Fleetwood benefited from another $460,000 in independent expenditures.
In the Puget Sound region, Democrats relied on a get-out-the-vote push to attract younger and more liberal voters who sometimes skip midterm elections. Republicans argued that the Majority Caucus brought balance and fiscal responsibility to a Legislature where Democrats control the House and the governor’s office.
In another Senate contest that drew financial and organizational support from environmentalists, incumbent Republican Senator Steve O’Ban, of University Place, was leading state Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, in the 28th District in Pierce County.
O’Ban, an attorney, said he was concerned that proposals to reduce carbon emissions in the state would significantly increase the cost of gasoline.
Green, a registered nurse, said she supported actions to reduce greenhouse gases and spoke out strongly for abortion rights. O’Ban said abortion rights were not a top priority for voters in the district.
Combative Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, was edging Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, in the 31st District. Roach is the longest-serving state legislator of her party, but has a history of being reprimanded by leadership for losing her temper with staff and colleagues.
In state House races, Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, was easily beating socialist Jess Spear for the 43rd District seat. In the 37th District, former immigrant-rights advocate Pramila Jayapal led another Democrat, Louis Watanabe.
And Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, was winning in his effort to retain his 45th District seat against Republican challenger Joel Hussey in a race that featured allegations that Goodman, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, had driven his children in the family car while stoned.