Teri Hickel leads in House seat race in Federal Way area.

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The Democratic Party’s majority in the state House is in danger of shrinking to its smallest level in more than a decade, as Republican challenger Teri Hickel led Tuesday night in a key Federal Way-area legislative race.

Hickel, a former nonprofit director, had 54 percent of the vote in the 30th Legislative District contest, compared with 46 percent for Democratic Rep. Carol Gregory.

Gregory, a school-board member and former teachers-union leader, had been appointed in January to fill the state house seat vacated by Roger Freeman, who died of cancer. But Republicans sensed a pickup opportunity in the swing district.

While Democrats have dominated the top-of-the-ticket gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections in recent decades, Republicans have maintained a toehold of power in the state Legislature.

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In the state Senate, Republicans, joined by one conservative Democrat, hold a two-vote majority.

Meanwhile, the GOP has whittled down a once-dominant House Democratic majority in recent years. Democrats now hold a 51-47 majority, down from a peak of 63-35 in 2008.

A win by Hickel would narrow that to 50-48, the Democrats’ smallest House majority since 2002.

“Republicans keep on winning and Democrats keep on losing. At this point, Frank Chopp doesn’t really have a working majority,” said Keith Schipper, Hickel’s campaign manager, referring to the Democratic state House Speaker from Seattle.

Gregory, who did not concede, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. A state Democratic Party spokesman declined to comment.

Gregory, 71, is a Federal Way School Board member and former president of the state teachers’ union. She campaigned on her long experience in education policy at a time when the Legislature is debating how to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling demanding better funding of public schools.

Hickel, 55, until recently ran a tiny nonprofit called Advancing Leadership, backed by the local chamber of commerce. The organization trained citizens to become community leaders.

As the sole race in play between the major parties this election, nearly $2 million flowed into the Hickel-Gregory race. Unions backing Gregory and business groups supporting Hickel accounted for about $1.2 million of that spending through independent political committees.

Republican-aligned groups sought to portray Gregory as a liberal bent on raising taxes. Unions and other Democratic Party allies accused Hickel of being in the pocket of corporate interests.