Pierce County races emerge as key prizes in battle for control in Olympia

Democrat Lane Walthers, left, and Republican Phil Fortunato were leading the race for the 31st Legislative District on Tuesday after early returns from the state primary election.
Democrat Lane Walthers, left, and Republican Phil Fortunato were leading the race for the 31st Legislative District on Tuesday after early returns from the state primary election. Courtesy

Early results from Tuesday’s primary showed Republicans and Democrats trading blows in Pierce County races that are expected to be major battlegrounds as the parties fight for control of the Legislature in November.

In a race that Republicans hope will help them win control of the state House, Democrat Lane Walthers and Republican Phil Fortunato were poised to move on to the general election in the 31st Legislative District, an area that includes Auburn, Bonney Lake, Sumner, Edgewood, Lake Tapps, Buckley, South Prairie, Wilkeson and Carbonado.

Fortunato, a former state lawmaker, and Walthers, a firefighter, both were winning handily against Republicans Pablo Monroy and Morgan Irwin in the race to succeed state Rep. Chris Hurst, an Enumclaw Democrat who is retiring this year.

Tuesday’s primary results will decide which two candidates advance to the Nov. 8 general election in that race, as well as dozens of others. Under Washington’s top-two primary system, the two candidates who win the most votes in crowded races secure a spot on the November ballot, regardless of their party affiliation.

Republicans need to win only two House seats in November to gain control of the Legislature’s lower chamber, where Democrats now have just a 50-48 majority. Republicans flipping even a single seat — like Hurst’s in the 31st district — would create a tie in the Legislature’s lower chamber, forcing a power-sharing arrangement that last occurred from 1999 to 2001.

Republicans already control the state Senate, something Democrats hope to change by gaining at least two Senate seats in November.

State Rep. J.T. Wilcox, a Republican from Yelm who chairs the House Republican Organizational Committee, said Fortunato’s strong performance makes it look like Republicans have the 31st District race “in the bag” this November.

Fortunato was leading Walthers on Tuesday night, and Wilcox said he expects that Fortunato will pick up more Republican votes in November now that two other Republican candidates are out of the race.

In another closely watched House race, state Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, will face a rematch against Republican Paul Wagemann, a Clover Park school board member whom she narrowly defeated two years ago. In early returns Tuesday, Kilduff and Wagemann were easily defeating Republican Mike Winkler and Libertarian Brandon Lyons in Pierce County’s 28th Legislative District, which includes University Place, Steilacoom, Fircrest, DuPont, and parts of Tacoma and Lakewood.

In the same district, state Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, was sailing through the primary, along with Democrat Mari Leavitt, a deputy director for Pierce County community service programs. Muri and Leavitt were leading Democrat Anne Setsuko Giroux by wide margins Tuesday.

In the Gig Harbor area, former lawmaker Larry Seaquist will attempt to return to the Legislature this November by toppling his one-time seatmate, state Rep. Jesse Young. Young, a Republican, and Seaquist, a Democrat, were set to advance to the general election, posting big election-night leads over Democrat Alec Matias and Republican Bill Scheidler.

State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, the chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said the overall support for Democratic candidates in that race make it one that can turn blue in November.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for Democrats statewide. I think that’s really clear,” Fitzgibbon said of Tuesday night’s results.

Elsewhere, state Rep. David Sawyer, D-Parkland, appeared to have fended off an intraparty challenge from another Democrat, former Idaho lawmaker Branden Durst.

Sawyer and independent Republican Rick Thomas, a former Army Special Forces officer, were far ahead of Durst on Tuesday night.

While Tuesday’s primary didn’t eliminate candidates in two-way races, both parties were looking to see their candidates perform well in those matchups to signal strength going into the November elections.

As of Tuesday night, state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, was leading Democratic challenger Marisa Peloquin, a former Army company commander, in their competitive race in the 28th District.

But Republicans and Democrats were neck and neck in some of the other contests that will be the biggest prizes this fall, with Democrats outperforming Republicans in certain key races.

Republican state Reps. Linda Kochmar and Teri Hickel of Federal Way were trailing their Democratic challengers in the 30th Legislative District, which includes parts of northern Pierce and South King counties. Kochmar is facing Democrat Mike Pellicciotti, a prosecutor, while Hickel is up against Democrat Kristine Reeves, a director of economic development for the state Department of Commerce’s military and defense sector.

Wilcox said some of those numbers could shift in the next few days as more ballots are counted in the vote-by-mail election.

“When you get into these 1- or 2-percent races, the next few days do matter,” Wilcox said.

Elsewhere in the state, Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, was nearly tied with his Republican challenger, state Rep. Chad Magendanz, an Issaquah Republican. Mullet led Magendanz by a few dozen votes Tuesday in King County’s 5th Legislative District.

Appointed state Rep. John Lovick, a Mill Creek Democrat who recently replaced former state Rep. Hans Dunshee, was leading his Republican challenger, Janice Huxford, by a comfortable margin Tuesday. Lovick previously has served in the Legislature; Huxford is a Lake Stevens planning commissioner who co-owns a roofing business.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1