Democrat Bill Sherman defeated rival Keith Scully on Tuesday to become his party's candidate for King County prosecutor. The race marked the...

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Democrat Bill Sherman defeated rival Keith Scully on Tuesday to become his party’s candidate for King County prosecutor.

The race marked the first time in decades Democrats appeared on the primary ballot for the county’s top lawyer, a post long controlled by the GOP.

The winner will advance to the Nov. 6 election and face Republican Dan Satterberg, who ran unopposed and so far has raised more campaign contributions than both Democrats combined.

“I feel really good,” Sherman said Tuesday. “The voters of King County declared it was time for a fresh approach.”

Scully, the legal director of Futurewise, a local conservation group, said the early returns did not look good for him, but he would not concede until most of the votes were counted. “I hoped to do a little bit better,” he said.

Although Satterberg has never run for public office, he comes to the prosecutor’s race with big advantages.

The Metropolitan King County Council named him interim prosecutor after the sudden death of Republican Norm Maleng in May, and he is endorsed by many prominent Democrats.

“This race is about qualifications, not about party label,” said Satterberg, who was Maleng’s top aide for 17 years.

Much of Satterberg’s campaign has focused on maintaining Maleng’s legacy. Looking toward retirement, Maleng asked Satterberg if he was prepared to run for prosecutor, Satterberg said. Satterberg said he promised he would.

Countering calls that the office may be stagnant after decades of one-party administration, Satterberg said he is constantly trying new things.

“I bring a fresh set of eyes to work every day,” he said.

Although Satterberg said he expects the total Democratic vote for Sherman and Scully to outnumber his count in the primary, he thinks the results will be “meaningless” because he ran unopposed.

However the prosecutor’s race turns out, it’s sure to be closer than the last two. Maleng, who first won the position in 1978, ran unopposed in all his races except 1998, when he defeated former San Juan Island County prosecutor Fred Canavor by 17 percentage points.

During the Democratic primary campaign, Sherman, currently a King County deputy prosecuting attorney, stressed his work with victims of domestic violence. He also focused on elder fraud, identity theft and drug treatment.

Racking up endorsements from Mayor Greg Nickels, former Gov. Gary Locke and several King County Council members, Sherman raised about $61,000, about twice as much as Scully.

Sherman said his experience in the Interior Department under President Clinton would help him reorganize the office.

Last week, Sherman said he would retain Maleng’s commitment to fairness and nonpartisanship, but bring a freshness to the job.

The summer campaign, along with Maleng’s long history in the position, made drumming up interest in the race difficult, at least early on, said Sherman, who lost a bid for the Legislature last year.

“September has that back-to-school energy,” he said. “With the August primary, that means people are mentally on summer vacation.”

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com