OLYMPIA — At least four Washington Senate incumbents dipped below 50% in primary election results Tuesday that could point to broader political shifts around the state.
Many votes remain to be counted in the coming days, but if the results hold, Democrats could pick up two GOP-held seats. Meanwhile, two moderate incumbent Democrats are facing strong challenges — one from a Republican and another from a Democrat running from the left.
In Tuesday night’s elections results, Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, was narrowly trailing Democratic challenger T’wina Nobles 49% to 51% in Pierce County’s 28th Legislative District.
In the 10th District, newly appointed GOP Sen. Ron Muzzall of Oak Harbor trailed Democratic challenger Helen Price Johnson, also 49% to 51%.
In Southwest Washington’s 19th District, incumbent Democratic Sen. Dean Takko of Longview had 46% of the vote counted on Tuesday, while two GOP challengers seeking to oust him collected a majority of votes combined.
And in an intraparty battle in King County’s 5th District, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet of Issaquah trailed Ingrid Anderson, a Democrat challenging him from the left, 47% to 48.4%.
The results had leaders from both parties sounding optimistic.
“This is again another cycle where voters are demonstrating they want to see Democratic leadership,” said Adam Bartz, executive director of the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.
Washington State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich pointed to the 19th District Senate seat and two House races where Democratic incumbents trailed.
“I think we have an opportunity to continue to bring balance to Olympia,” Heimlich said.
Those closely watched races are among dozens of state Legislature contests being decided across Washington this year.
All 98 House seats, as well as 26 of the 49 Senate seats, are on the ballot. The top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 3 general election. Ballot counting continues throughout the week and beyond.
Democrats hold a 57-to-41 House majority and a 28-to-21 Senate majority. Those large margins have allowed Democrats to approve a host of progressive legislation in recent years, including bills on health care, climate change and firearms regulations.
Lawmakers returning to Olympia for the next legislative session in January will wrestle first and foremost with the massive economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Legislators are likely to face difficult decisions on spending and taxes as they address an $8.8 billion projected shortfall in the state operating budget through 2023.
Lawmakers also are likely to debate policing reforms sparked by ongoing protests over the police killing of George Floyd this spring in Minneapolis, and the deaths of other Black people locally and nationally.
Democrats are hoping the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — combined with the deep unpopularity in Washington state of President Donald Trump — will help them win more legislative seats.
Republicans, meanwhile, hope to counter any national headwinds by highlighting tax increases enacted recently by the Democratic majorities, as well as other proposals to raise revenue.
The bulk of Washington’s 49 state legislative districts are considered generally safe for either Republicans or Democrats. In most election cycles, the two parties fiercely contest a handful of Western Washington districts.
In the 28th District, O’Ban, who works for the county as a senior counsel on behavioral health issues, was reelected in 2016 even as the district supported Hillary Clinton for president. He had raised $403,496 as of Tuesday, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Nobles — who is a University Place School Board director and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League — had raised $337,763.
Democrats have also targeted the 10th District Senate seat, to which Muzzall was appointed after Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, announced her retirement.
Republicans meanwhile have pinned their hopes on the 19th District — which includes part of Grays Harbor County — where they picked up a House seat in 2016.
Once a Democratic stronghold, the district went for Trump four years ago. That year, Grays Harbor County supported a Republican president for the first time since 1928 when its voters chose Herbert Hoover.
First appointed to the House in 2004, Takko won election in 2016 to the Senate. In Tuesday night’s primary results, two Republicans combined to take a majority of the vote. Jeff Wilson had 36.5% and Wes Cormier received about 17%.
Meanwhile in that district, longtime Rep. Brian Blake — perhaps the most moderate Democrat in the state House — trailed Republican Joel McIntire, 48% to 52%.
In Whatcom County’s 42nd District, GOP challenger Jennifer Sefzik was leading freshman Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, 51.5% to 48.5%.
In the race to replace 36th District Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, who is running for secretary of state, Liz Berry was leading Sarah Reyneveld, 49.5% to 42.8%. Both candidates are Democrats.
In the race to replace 37th District Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Renton, Kirsten Harris-Talley led a crowded field with 49.6% of the vote, with fellow Democrat Chukundi Salisbury getting 21.2%.
Meanwhile, former House Speaker Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, earned 54% of the vote. Challenger Sherae Lascelles of the Seattle People’s Party earned 27.8% in the 43rd District race and Democratic challenger Jessi Murray got 17.5%.