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Republican Pedro Celis pushed into second place Thursday in the 1st Congressional District primary, making it more likely that GOP leaders will get the matchup they desired against first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene.

Celis had been in third place in Tuesday and Wednesday’s totals, surprising some Republican Party leaders who’d anointed him as their favored candidate in the swing-district contest north of Seattle.

But after more ballots were tallied on Thursday, Celis moved 840 votes ahead of little-known Republican rival Robert Sutherland, a retired Granite Falls biochemist who’d raised just $4,700.

“I’m feeling good,” Celis said, calling it “very unlikely” the trend would reverse. But he stopped short of declaring victory.

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Sutherland did not concede but acknowledged it would take a “miracle swing” for him to win. “It’s in his (Celis’) favor, and we’ll see what votes come in tomorrow,” he said.

The 1st District stretches from the northeast King County suburbs of Redmond and Kirkland to the Canadian border, including most of Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

In 2010 redistricting it was drawn as the state’s only swing district, divided nearly equally between Democratic- and Republican-leaning areas.

As of Thursday, DelBene, D-Medina, had drawn just below 51 percent of the vote in the primary, with four Republicans and two others splitting the rest of the vote. Celis had 16.4 percent and Sutherland was at 15.6 percent.

Despite the primary drama, Robert Jones, regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Celis “is in a really good spot going into the fall.”

Jones noted that DelBene’s support was barely above 50 percent — signaling her potential vulnerability as an incumbent.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or On Twitter @Jim_Brunner

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