OLYMPIA — Four incumbent Washington state senators trailed their challengers in Tuesday night’s election results, in a shake-up that could see the chamber tilt a little more to the left.
More ballots will be counted in the coming days, but if the initial results hold, Democrats would pick up one Senate seat overall.
Meanwhile, in a high-profile intraparty fight in the Eastside’s 5th Legislative District, Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, Tuesday trailed fellow Democrat Ingrid Anderson, 48.4% to 49.7%.
In the Tacoma-area’s 28th Legislative District, Democratic challenger T’wina Nobles was leading Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, 52% to 48%.
In the 10th Legislative District, Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, was trailing Democratic challenger Helen Price Johnson, 49% to 51%.
And in Southwest Washington’s 19th Legislative District, Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, was trailing Republican challenger Jeff Wilson, 46.5% to 53.4%.
In the state House, the two major parties were locked in close contests over about a half a dozen seats that, if results hold, would slightly boost the Democratic majority in that chamber.
“Overall, I think it’s good news to see our majority grow a little bit,” said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, who chairs the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
Democrats currently have a 57-to-41 majority in the House and a 28-to-21 majority in the Senate.
The next crop of lawmakers is expected to face tough decisions on taxes, spending and economic recovery as they tackle a projected $4.2 billion shortfall for the two-year state operating budget that will be drafted early next year.
That’s roughly half of the shortfall that forecasters originally projected as the coronavirus pandemic and public-health response caused a steep drop in commerce and tax revenue. But it’s still a big hole.
Lawmakers will also face the prospect of a steep rise in taxes that businesses pay to cover state jobless benefits in light of the economic downturn.
By 2022, those employer taxes could increase to an average of $936 per worker, according to preliminary state figures released earlier this year. That is nearly three times the anticipated 2020 figure of $317.
Lawmakers will also discuss policing reforms in light of the protests sparked by the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma.
Legislators must also grapple with Washington’s pre-pandemic crises, such as homelessness, housing affordability and struggles in the state’s mental-health care system.
Democrats all year have eyed the Senate races in the 28th and 10th Districts as pickup opportunities.
O’Ban won reelection in 2016 even as Hillary Clinton carried Pierce County’s 28th District. But in the August primary, he narrowly trailed Nobles, who is president and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League and is also a member of the University Place School Board.
Meanwhile, Muzzall edged out Price Johnson in the primary for the 10th District Senate seat, which includes Island County as well as parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties.
With ballots left to count, those races could still shift, said Washington State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich.
“I think especially in the legislative races, it’s too early to tell,” Heimlich said Tuesday night. He added: “We will see how the chips fall.”
Republicans appeared to be having a good night in the 19th District. In addition to Takko trailing his Senate challenger, Republican Joel McEntire was leading Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen.
Meanwhile, Democratic challengers and incumbents were leading Republicans in four hotly contested House races, two each in the 10th District and in Whatcom County’s 42nd District.
And in the 17th District, Democratic challenger Tanisha Harris was leading Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver.
In the Eastside’s 5th District, progressive unions have backed Anderson, a nurse who is challenging Mullet, a small-business owner who has opposed some Democratic tax and climate-change proposals.
In a rare move against an incumbent from his own party, Gov. Jay Inslee this year endorsed and campaigned for Anderson as he seeks to pass climate-change legislation such as a clean-fuels standard.
In Seattle’s 43rd District, former Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp was leading challenger Sherae Lascelles of the Seattle Peoples Party, 67% to 33%.
In the 36th District, Liz Berry was leading fellow Democrat Sarah Reyneveld, 58% to 41%. That race will fill the seat vacated by Rep. Gael Tarleton, who is challenging Kim Wyman for secretary of state.
In the 37th District, Kirsten Harris-Talley was leading fellow Democrat Chukundi Salisbury, 67% to 32%. The two are competing to replace longtime Rep. Eric Pettigrew, who is retiring.