Republicans were leading Tuesday in the swing districts where control of the state Senate was being decided.
Incumbent Republicans including Tacoma Sen. Steve O’Ban were defeating challengers while Mark Miloscia of Federal Way, formerly a House Democrat, was about to become a Senate Republican.
If a GOP-led coalition keeps control of the Senate, it could stymie Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s agenda, including mechanisms to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a gas-tax increase for highways, and new tax revenue to help fulfill a court mandate for schools.
“There’s a lot of discussion about climate change and Gov. Inslee’s tax-and-spend agenda that he was going to bring into the 2015 session,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup. “That agenda’s probably not going to be driving the Legislature in 2015, and I think the voters want that.”
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Republicans led in most of the closely watched races for the House as well, although some of them were nailbiters, and Democrats were not likely to lose control of the House.
One of the few bright spots for Democrats came in the results for a candidate who died six days before the election.
Rep. Roger Freeman’s name stayed on the ballot, and if he wins, another Democrat will be appointed. He led Jack Dovey, a Republican former Federal Way city councilman and mayor, in early returns in the 30th District that includes Federal Way, Pacific, Milton, Algona and parts of Auburn and Des Moines.
But most ballots remained uncounted in populous King County. That also allowed Democrats to hold out some hope of defeating Republican Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond, who led his challenger, Matt Isenhower.
“Early results aren’t as positive as I’d like, but we’re going to wait and see how the voters vote,” said Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson of Maury Island. She and other Democrats cited a strong get-out-the-vote effort.
“We had hundreds of people out at even 6 o’clock tonight, so I think you’re going to see numbers improve for the Democratic side. I just don’t know if it will be good enough,” said Lakewood Rep. Tami Green, the Democrat whose challenge of O’Ban was falling short.
Green, who was optimistic she would gain ground, said she thinks many Democrats in the state were hurt by voters’ negative views of Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate and the White House.
“I see a lot of my Democratic colleagues in the (state) House are really struggling to keep their seats,” Green said. “You have to wonder how much of that is carried over from national politics.”
Among the struggling Democrats was Rep. Dawn Morrell of Puyallup, who trailed her challenger Melanie Stambaugh, a Republican who at 24 would become one of the Legislature’s youngest members if elected. Stambaugh, whose family business does motivational coaching, would represent the 25th District that includes Puyallup and Fife.
If early Senate results stand up, Miloscia would become the 25th Republican in the 49-member Senate, giving the GOP a partisan majority. Their full coalition would hold steady at its current majority of 26 counting conservative Democrat Tim Sheldon — who was fending off a challenger backed by the Democratic Party.
The challenges to Hill and O’Ban were the state’s two most expensive legislative races. Hill’s was approaching the record of more than $3.1 million.
More than $2.2 million — equal to more than $30 per registered voter — was spent in the 28th District race between O’Ban and Green. The district includes University Place, Fircrest, Steilacoom, DuPont, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and parts of Lakewood and West Tacoma.
In a clash of Republicans, 24-year Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn was leading Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw.
Dahlquist ran a campaign unusual for its joint advertising with a Democrat, Enumclaw Rep. Chris Hurst, who runs as an “independent Dem” in the conservative-leaning 31st District that includes east Pierce and southeast King counties. Hurst led his own challenger, former Rep. Phil Fortunato, who was running as a “Ind. Republican.”
Roach’s allies were also notable for rarely being on the same side. Unions and business groups helped her. Her fellow Senate Republicans, who just four years before had banned her from their meeting room for being abusive to staff, endorsed her.
At least five new state lawmakers will be headed to the Legislature from the South Sound, including Stambaugh and Freeman’s replacement.
Another, Miloscia, replaces departing Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide with his defeat of Federal Way Democrat and real-estate agent Shari Song. Song called Miloscia extreme for his opposition to abortion rights, but she distanced herself from a flier and online post that attacked Miloscia with an anti-Catholic caricature.
To replace Green, voters were split between Clover Park School Board member Paul Wagemann of Lakewood and University Place School Board President Christine Kilduff.
Dahlquist’s replacement in the 31st District voters will be King County Council aide and lawyer Drew Stokesbary of Auburn, who voters picked over teacher and Enumclaw City Councilman Mike Sando.
Gig Harbor Rep. Larry Seaquist was locked in a tight race with Port Orchard dentist Michelle Caldier after a nasty campaign that ended up in court after Republican Caldier accused Democrat Seaquist of secretly taking pictures of her.
They were competing in the 26th District, which runs from the Tacoma Narrows to part of Bremerton. In the same district, a full four-year term in the Senate came easier for Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, than did her 2013 win over former state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor. She defeated retired teacher Judy Arbogast, an Olalla Democrat.
Emergency-room doctor Schlicher was trailing Angel’s appointed replacement, consultant and GOP Rep. Jesse Young of Gig Harbor.
Appointed Reps. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, and Graham Hunt, R-Orting, guaranteed their first full terms by beating Democrats. Muri was up against Mary Moss of Lakewood in the 28th and Hunt against Democrat Greg Hartman of Graham in the 2nd District.
Freshmen Reps. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, David Sawyer, D-Lakewood, and Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way, are all headed for second terms in the House. Kochmar beat Federal Way Democrat Greg Baruso in the 30th. Sawyer beat Spanaway Republican Jason Bergstrom in the 29th District that includes South and South End Tacoma, east Lakewood, Spanaway, Frederickson and Parkland. Fey beat Tacoma Republican Steven Cook in Tacoma’s 27th District.
Also in Tacoma, Democratic Rep. Laurie Jinkins beat Republican Rodger Deskins in the 27th, and Democratic Sen. Steve Conway beat Republican Terry Harder in the 29th, where Democratic Rep. Steve Kirby ran unopposed for re-election.
Other South Sound lawmakers winning re-election include Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, over Orting Libertarian Steven Nielson and Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, over Puyallup Democrat Eric Renz.