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November 13, 2012 at 7:15 AM

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The state Senate and the real or philosophical majority

With Gov.-elect Jay Inslee preparing to move into the governor's mansion and get to work after his hard-fought victory, political observers now are watching another contest that is even slower to be decided.

The 17th Legislative District senate race could determine another state balance-of-power question.

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is trying to win a fifth term in the state Senate by fending off a challenge from state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Ridgefield. Probst was leading election night by 222 votes, then Benton pulled ahead. Friday, Probst regained the lead with just 16 votes of a total of more than 52,000 counted so far. Clark County is expected to release another ballot count at 5 p.m. Tuesday and has reported to the Secretary of State's office that it has about another 7,500 ballots on hand to be counted.

About $1.1 million was spent in this race, according to The Columbian of Vancovuer.

If Benton wins, the split in the Senate will be 26 Democrats to 23 Republicans. However, two of those Democrats, Rodney Tom of Bellevue, and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, were among the three Democrats who joined with the Republican minority last session to seize control of the Senate. The third, Jim Kastama of Puyallup, will not return to the Senate after running unsuccessfully for secretary of state.

With a tighter margin, Tom and Sheldon would have a little more pull with their Democratic caucus. If Democrat Probst maintains his lead Tom and Sheldon might not not have as much muscle when push comes to shove.

There are a a few other Senate Democrats who are known as moderates, including Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens and Brian Hatfield of Raymond. Both worked for reforms but hung with their party's caucus in last year's dustup.

Either way, the tighter margin will make the Senate the focus of much interest, especially since Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, opted not to run for re-election again. The caucus is expected to select a new majority leader Tuesday.


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