Dems look to Seattle for next special election win

Dems look to Seattle for next special election win
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After coming up just short in a handful of high-stakes special elections this year, Democrats once again find themselves hoping for a big win in a critical swing district this November — a seat that could change the partisan makeup of an entire state. 

The battle for a state Senate district in suburban Seattle is also a fight to control a narrowly divided legislative chamber, one that Republicans owned by just a single seat.

That majority is now at risk after the Republican incumbent died from cancer earlier this year.

In last week’s all-party primary, Democrat Manka Dhingra took just over 51 percent of the vote, ahead of Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund’s 42 percent.  

The two will face off in November in a race that will decide whether Republicans maintain their narrow foothold in Washington State government, or whether Democrats add the Evergreen State to the roster of states where they exercise complete control.

Dhingra is a top deputy prosecuting attorney for King County. Englund is a former aide to Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Dramatic battle looms after Kennedy’s retirement Immigration overhaul on life support in the House Vulnerable House GOP leader takes lead on family separations bill MORE (R-Wash.) who has worked with the Marine Corps and the Digital Currency Council, which advocates for Bitcoin.

Dino Rossi, the former Republican gubernatorial nominee, was appointed to fill the seat after the death of state Sen. Andy Hill (R). The winner of the November runoff will replace Rossi and determine partisan control of the state Senate. Currently, the chamber’s 24 Republicans control the Senate with the help of one conservative Democrat, giving the coalition a 25-24 majority.

The race has drawn an incredible amount of spending so far: The two candidates and their supportive outside groups have already raised $3 million.

Those involved in the race say they expect up to $10 million in total spending by the time November rolls around. The race is already more expensive than any statewide contest aside from earlier gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races. It is likely to become more expensive than Washington’s priciest-ever contest for a seat in Congress, when Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertOvernight Energy: Koch backs bill opposing carbon taxes | Lawmakers look to Interior budget to block offshore drilling | EPA defends FOIA process More than 50 Dem House challengers outraise GOP incumbents Lawmakers aim to use spending bill to block offshore drilling MORE (R) won reelection in 2008 after he and his Democratic opponent spent a combined $7.2 million.

One Republican consultant, who lives in the district but who isn’t involved in the race, said his family had received 32 pieces of campaign mail in the month before the primary election.

That a major fight has broken out north and east of Lake Washington reflects the changing face of Washington politics. Once a bastion of conservatism, the East Side district is now dominated by the tech workers employed at Microsoft, which has its headquarters in Redmond. 

And while Republicans held the seat in 2014, when the late Andy Hill won reelection, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState Dept: Russia’s allegations about American citizens ‘absolutely absurd’ Trump on possible sit-down with Mueller: 'I've always wanted to do an interview' Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE took 65 percent of the vote there in 2016. At the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) won almost 58 percent of the vote.

Englund is staking her campaign on a pledge to block any efforts to implement an income tax; Washington is one of seven states across the country that does not levy a tax on personal incomes. 

Dhingra has sought to link Englund to President Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the well-educated district. But even those backing Dhingra say that won’t be easy.

"Trump’s negatives don’t just necessarily attach to Englund,” said Kurt Fritts, the Democratic strategist running the outside campaign on Dhingra’s behalf. “It’s not like, the fact that these folks reject Trump so they reject Republicans, that’s just not the case.” 

Democrats have suffered a string of stinging defeats in special elections for open U.S. House seats in Republican-heavy districts in states like Kansas, Montana, South Carolina and Georgia this year. But all of those districts were far more conservative than the suburban Seattle district where Dhingra and Englund are facing off.

Still, Republicans say the initial results that put Dhingra nine points ahead are not insurmountable. 

“The votes cast [Tuesday] were largely from partisans from each party’s base,” said Matt Walter, who heads the Republican State Leadership Committee. “The race that counts in November will have double the turnout and we’re confident Jinyoung’s opposition to a new state income tax will persuade new voters to keep the balance in Olympia.”

If Dhingra pulls out the win in November, Washington would become the seventh state in which Democrats control all levers of state government, joining California, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii. 

Republicans own so-called “trifectas” — total control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion — in 24 states. (In practice, Republicans also exercise total control over a 25th state, Nebraska, where the unicameral legislature is ostensibly nonpartisan.)