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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington State Senate Race Breaks Spending Record

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Campaign photos
Republican Jinyoung Englund, left, and Democrat Manka Dhingra are vying to fill an open state Senate seat in Washington's 45th legislative district.

Candidates are breaking spending records in a special election that will decide which party controls the Washington Senate.

Republican Jinyoung Englund and Democrat Manka Dhingra are vying to fill an open state Senate seat in Washington’s 45th legislative district which stretches from Kirkland to Duvall.

So far they have have spent $2.4 million. According to an analysis by Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission the previous spending record in a state legislative race was $1.5 million, also in that district back in 2014.

Even though the candidates are breaking spending records, they’re still being outspent by political action committees. PACs have reported nearly $3.8 million in spending in this race.

Why so much money? Republicans have a one seat majority in the Washington Senate. If they lose this seat, the Senate will flip giving Democrats both chambers and the governor’s office.

Business interests view the Republican Senate as a backstop against Democratic priorities like a capital gains and carbon tax, while Democratic interests see the Republicans as an impediment to tax reform and legislation like a state Voting Rights Act.

The Washington Senate is the only Republican held legislative chamber on the West Coast and this special election has drawn interest and money from outside the state.

Recently, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave $250,000 to a PAC that supports Dhingra. In August, California billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer contributed $125,000 to that same PAC.

Meanwhile the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Council, whose top contributor is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has given $450,000 to a PAC run by the Senate Republican Caucus.

The special election in the 45th is being held to replace state Senator Andy Hill, a Republican who died last year of cancer. The winner of the election in November will finish out the remainder of Hill’s term and then have to run again next year.

Republicans have held the state Senate seat in the 45th since 2010, but the district’s other two state legislators are Democrats and the district overwhelmingly went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

In the August top-two primary, Dhingra led Englund with 51 percent of the vote to 41 percent. A third candidate, Parker Harris, who claimed no party affiliation, got 7 percent.