The closest state legislative race in Washington’s primary election is playing out in South King County, where two Democrats appear headed toward a recount.
More than a week after the primary, with almost every ballot now accounted for, Claudia Kauffman leads Satwinder Kaur by just 61 votes in the 47th Legislative District, which includes the eastern part of Kent, the northern part of Auburn and all of Covington. Kauffman and Kaur are competing to match up against Republican Bill Boyce in the November general election.
The head-to-head contest with Boyce could become one of the hottest races in the state because the superdiverse 47th Legislative District has been a political battleground for decades. The Senate seat — which is open because the incumbent, Democrat Mona Das, chose not to seek reelection — has seesawed between Republican and Democratic control.
Before the next phase starts, however, the primary must be resolved. Boyce is advancing with about 46% of the vote, while Kauffmann and Kaur each have about 27%. Kauffman led Kaur on election night and has maintained a slim advantage since then, as more ballots have been tallied. Roughly 34% of the district’s registered voters turned out.
Kauffman hasn’t declared victory and Kaur hasn’t conceded. King County Elections is dealing with ballots that have signature problems and will certify the election results on Aug. 16, after which a recount may be required.
Machine recounts are mandatory when two candidates are separated by less than 2,000 votes and less than 0.5% of the total votes for both candidates. Hand recounts are required when two candidates are separated by less than 150 votes and less than 0.25% of the total votes for both candidates.
Currently, Kauffman and Kaur are close enough to trigger a machine recount. Most recounts by King County Elections in recent years have yielded zero or minimal changes to vote totals.
“We’re going to wait until every vote is counted,” Kaur said this week, predicting that a machine recount will be required.
“I’m obviously frustrated” to be trailing, “but we gave it everything we had. We knocked on 12,000 doors and talked to 17,000 voters,” Kaur added, suggesting her bid was damaged by an onslaught of attack ads.
Political-action committees bankrolled by Republican interests spent more than $135,000 against Kaur, a Kent City Council member who was endorsed by the King County Democrats. They spent less than $11,000 attacking Kauffman, who held the Senate seat from 2007 to 2010.
“I think it did make a difference,” Kaur said.
Leading up to the primary, Kaur said she would bring new energy to the seat, while Kauffman cited her own experience. Kauffman said the results demonstrate that her message resonated.
“There was a tremendous amount of name recognition when I was knocking on doors,” she said this week.
Kauffman and Kaur described themselves as moderates who would uphold progressive values like abortion rights while trying to reduce taxes on regular people. Boyce, president of the Kent City Council, criticized Democratic approaches to gas prices, drugs, crime and homelessness.
Republican leaders have described the 47th Legislative District as one of their best opportunities to pick up a Senate seat. But the Democrats are well-positioned for November, given that Boyce secured well under 50% in the primary, Kauffman said. Kaur won a number of precincts in Kent, Boyce won most in Covington and Kauffman won many in Auburn.
Republicans struggled to surge in multiple swing districts in the primary, countering GOP hopes for “red wave” in the Legislature this year.
Boyce won’t change his strategy for the general election, he said this week. More voters will turn out in November, and his challenge will be “just getting the word out,” he said.