Democrats Make Gains In Legislature, Many Races Too Close To Call

Nov 7, 2018

It wasn't a sweeping blue wave, but Democrats were poised to pick up several seats in the Washington Legislature based on the first tally of ballots Tuesday evening as many of the most hotly contested races remained too close to call. 

Democrats were leading in seven House races and in two state Senate contests where Republicans currently hold the seat. In a handful of other races, Republicans were holding off their Democratic challengers but just barely. 

If the trend holds in the coming days, Democrats will firm up their control of the House and Senate where they currently have one seat majorities in each chamber. But they won't have runaway majorities come January. 

"Certainly there were people out there who were hoping for a massive wave and it doesn't look like it was a massive wave," said state Representative Joe Fitzgibbon, who leads the House Democratic Campaign Committee. "But it certainly looks like in a number of districts that have been close for a long time, voters have chosen the Democratic candidate." 

Among the incumbent Republicans apparently headed for defeat was state Senator Mark Miloscia in the 30th legislative district, which includes Federal Way. He was trailing Democratic challenger Claire Wilson by a tough-to-surmount six points. That district has trended Democratic in recent years.

Meanwhile two other incumbent Republican state Senators were locked in fierce battles to keep their seats. In Whatcom County's 42nd district, Doug Ericksen, who has allied himself with President Donald Trump, had a slim 451 vote lead over Democratic challenger and Bellingham city council member Pinky Vargas. 

In the 47th district, which includes Auburn, Senate minority floor leader Joe Fain, who was accused in September of raping a woman in Washington, D.C. in 2007, an allegation he denies, was just 274 votes ahead of his challenger, Mona Das.

Also in the too-close-to-call category was the open state Senate in the 26th district, which stretches from Port Orchard to Gig Harbor. There Democrat Emily Randall had a narrow 474 vote advantage over Republican Marty McClendon. That seat is currently held by Republicans. 

Democrats were positioned to make their biggest gains in the Washington House where the list of Republicans facing defeat included state Representatives Dave Hayes of Camano Island and Paul Graves of Fall City in east King County. 

Elsewhere though, Republicans battled back from lackluster performances in the August primary and were defeating their Democratic challengers. Examples included in the 17th and 18th legislative districts in southwest Washington's Clark County.

"We probably beat most people's expectations," said House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox. "Every single Republican that I can think of is significantly outperforming what their primary [result] was."

Overall, candidates for the Legislature raised more than $28 million this cycle, according to an analysis of Public Disclosure Commission filings. Independent spending by political action committees in favor and opposed to statehouse candidates totaled more than $10 million. 

With stronger majorities in the Legislature, Democrats are likely to give serious consideration to passage of a capital gains tax. Other top priorities for Democrats may include addressing prescription drug costs and tackling carbon emissions, especially in the wake of the defeat of Initiative 1631, the carbon fee initiative. 

"Certainly the failure of 1631 just increases the urgency of the Legislature reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Fitzgibbon.