GOP leaders hoped to make some dents in the huge majorities — nearly 2 to 1 — that Democrats have held in both the House and Senate since 2006.

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Republicans harbored no illusions of retaking control of either house of the state Legislature this year.

That mountain was just too steep to climb.

But GOP leaders did hope to make some dents in the huge majorities — nearly 2 to 1 — that Democrats have held in both the House and Senate since 2006.

Early returns Tuesday indicated Democrats were holding those margins, however, and might pick up some seats.

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“The Obama wave appears to be carrying some of our people along as well,” said state Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who headed the Democrats’ campaign efforts.

Going into the election, Democrats held a 32-17 advantage in the Senate and a 63-35 lead in the House.

In King County, Democratic challengers were running slightly ahead of two House Republican incumbents, Reps. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, and Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, in early returns

Meanwhile, Democrats were holding onto House seats in three suburban King County districts — the 41st, 45th and 47th — that were among the GOP’s top targets.

Hundreds of thousands of votes remained to be counted, and many races were too close to call.

Tuesday’s election also featured something unprecedented: eight legislative contests that pitted candidates from the same party against each other, a consequence of the state’s new “top two” primary.

Two of those single-party contests were for House seats in Seattle where incumbents retired. In the all-Democrat race in the 36th District, wireless entrepreneur Reuven Carlyle held a nearly 2-to-1 lead over longtime civic and political activist John Burbank.

In the 46th, another Democratic stronghold, former Metropolitan King County Council Chief of Staff Scott White easily defeated Hanford cleanup activist Gerry Pollet.

The most hard-fought legislative race in Snohomish County was in the 44th District, where Republicans saw a chance to pick up another Democratic House seat.

State Rep. Liz Loomis, appointed in January, led Republican Mike Hope, a Seattle police detective, in early returns.

But House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said Hope’s strongest precincts hadn’t reported yet. And he said a net gain of one or two House seats for the GOP still was possible.

“Considering the national trend, that would be pretty good,” he said.

Elsewhere in the state

Outside the central Puget Sound area, state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who chairs the Transportation Committee, was holding off a strong challenge from Republican Linda Haddon.

But state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, a former GOP state chairman, was trailing Democratic challenger David Carrier by about 150 votes.

Here’s a look at some of the key races in King and Snohomish counties:

5th District (Eastern King County): In the county’s most Republican district, Anderson trailed Democrat David Spring of North Bend, a political newcomer. Spring, operating with little money or party support, won a surprising 49 percent of the total vote in the August primary.

11th District (Renton/Tukwila/Beacon Hill): State Sen. Margarita Prentice, a 20-year Olympia veteran, easily turned back a challenge from former congressional aide and pastry chef Juan Martinez in an all-Democrat race.

30th District (Federal Way): With only about 5,000 votes counted by late Tuesday night, Priest, the lone survivor in a once all-Republican district delegation, trailed Democrat Carol Gregory, a nonprofit executive and former Washington Education Association president, by a slim margin.

36th District (Queen Anne/Magnolia/Ballard): Carlyle and Burbank were making their first bids for elective office for the seat held for 36 years by state Rep. Helen Sommers, who is retiring.

Carlyle portrayed himself as the more business-friendly candidate. He led Burbank in the primary. Each candidate raised more than $250,000.

41st District (Mercer Island/South Bellevue/North Renton): State Rep. Fred Jarrett, a Republican-turned-Democrat, held a big lead over Republican Bob Baker, an airline pilot, for the Senate seat left vacant by the retirement of Democrat Brian Weinstein.

In the race for Jarrett’s old House seat, Renton School Board member Marcie Maxwell led Steve Litzow, a moderate Republican and technology entrepreneur. Litzow held a fundraising edge.

45th District (Kirkland/Redmond/Woodinville): Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman, an attorney and advocate of drug-law reform, was running well ahead of former GOP Rep. Toby Nixon. Goodman was elected to Nixon’s old House seat two years ago when Nixon made an unsuccessful run for the Senate.

46th District (Northeast Seattle): White finished well ahead of Pollet in the August primary, after Pollet waged an unsuccessful legal fight to keep him off the ballot. White had tried to withdraw in June because of illness, then reconsidered.

The race was a divisive one, with Pollet questioning White’s campaign contributions from builders and other business interests.

White accused Pollet of smearing him.

47th District (Covington/Auburn/Black Diamond): Democratic Rep. Geoff Simpson, a Kent firefighter, led Republican Mark Hargrove, a Boeing pilot instructor. Simpson had won four two-year terms in the fast-growing South King County district, but his political vulnerability increased this spring when he was arrested on a domestic-violence charge — later dropped — involving his ex-wife.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or

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