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Originally published Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 10:15 PM

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Legislature: Republicans will struggle to take back the state Senate

Olympia watchers were scanning primary results for indicators for the November general election. One of the big questions was whether talk of a Republican takeover of the state Senate is just that — or a real possibility.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Tuesday's returns in legislative races showed Republicans have an uphill battle in trying to reclaim control of the state Senate.

The GOP would need to pick up three seats in November to retake the Senate, which Democrats have held since 2005. The Democrats have a 27-22 majority.

In the 1st Legislative District, which straddles King and Snohomish counties, longtime incumbent Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, beat back a primary challenge from a moderate Democrat, Guy Palumbo, who supports charter schools. She will face Dawn McCravey, a Republican with solid education credentials, in the fall.

But in the 5th District in East King County, the GOP is on defense, as Mark Mullet, a Democrat and Issaquah City Council member, led Brad Toft, the Republican, in early returns. Mullet was leading with 53 percent of the vote on Tuesday night, to Toft's 47 percent. If Mullet wins in November, it will be difficult for Republicans to regain control of the Senate. The seat earlier had been held by Sen. Cheryl Pflug, a Republican.

Pflug, who was appointed in May by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, left the Republicans without a well-known candidate. And Toft's first-day primary results show he has a challenge ahead in November.

Pflug endorsed Mullet and accused Toft of "egregious and disreputable behavior," including charges of driving with a suspended license, speeding tickets and civil suits against him, mostly in the 1990s.

Toft has shrugged off comments about his past. "When I was young, I did dumb things," he told The Associated Press. "But I think voters reject these kinds of politics."Mullet said Tuesday night that he was happy to survive what he, too, felt was a negative campaign by Toft.

"I feel very vindicated that voters didn't believe it and we won."

10th Legislative District

Republicans are also trying to pick up the Senate seat in the 10th Legislative District. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, the Democratic incumbent, was virtually tied with Barbara Bailey, a Republican state representative for the district, in initial ballot counting.

Haugen has held the 10th district, which includes Camano and Whidbey islands, as well as a chunk of Skagit and Snohomish counties, since 1992.

She has raised $197,217 for her re-election bid, almost double Bailey's $106,539.

The primary results are a prelude to the November election results.

But Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist, warned against reading too much into the results. He said they provide "almost no indication at all" of what might happen in the general election.

The state House

The GOP will have a much more difficult time taking the House, for which they would need to pick up eight seats. The Democrats have a 56-42 majority in that chamber.

Selected House race results:

The 11th District:

Democrat Steve Bergquist, a teacher, led the race in the 11th District, which stretches from Seattle down to Renton, with 28 percent of the vote. Sarah Sanoy-Wright, a Republican, had the next highest total, with 25 percent of the vote, though Stephanie Bowman, a Democrat, was close behind with 23 percent. The race remains too close to draw final conclusions.

Washington's top-two primary requires the two candidates with the most votes to advance to the general election — even if they are both from the same political party.

The 36th District:

Democrat Gael Tarleton, a Port of Seattle commissioner, led the race in this Seattle district with 30 percent of the vote. Noel Christina Frame had the second-highest total, with 21 percent, making it almost certain that two Democrats will face each other in November.

The 46th District

Democrat Jessyn Farrell, a transit activist, led the race for this Seattle district with 28 percent of the vote. Sarajane Siegfriedt, a Democrat, narrowly led Scott Hodges, a Republican, for the second spot on the November ballot.

Theodoric Meyer: 206-464-2985 or tmeyer@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @theodoricmeyer.

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