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Originally published November 4, 2014 at 9:54 PM | Page modified November 5, 2014 at 11:09 AM

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Democrats trailing in state Senate races

Democrats’ hopes of retaking the state Senate appear to be dashed after election-night returns show them trailing in key races.

Seattle Times staff reporter


Despite record spending on both sides in the contest for control of the state Senate, incumbent Republicans were winning re-election in Tuesday’s returns, retaining a narrow working majority.

Republicans leaders praised the resulting 26-23 majority, saying state voters want balance and bipartisanship in the legislature where Democrats control the House and the Governor’s office.

But environmentalists expressed disappointment that Democratic candidates in three key races were all losing, despite a $1.25 million cash infusion from California billionaire and climate activist Tom Stever.

“It is disappointing,” said Shannon Murphy, president of the Washington Conservation Voters, which raised $1.4 million for the senate races. “But I think we elevated the environmental issues as never before.”

The results mean it will be harder for Gov. Jay Inslee to act on an aggressive plan to reduce carbon emissions in the state, or to pass legislation that’s been a priority for Democrats including education and transportation funding.

Inslee, who dropped by an Eastside Democratic gathering Tuesday night, tried to put a positive spin on the results.

“In the last few weeks there’s been some signs that the Republican Party may be showing some willingness to fund the McCleary decision (a state Supreme Court ruling that the state was underfunding K-12 schools.) I’ve talked to even a few Republicans who have even said the words ‘climate change,’ so that’s a start.”

But Susan Hutchison, chairman of the state GOP, sounded less than conciliatory. “Tom Steyer wants Jay Inslee to implement a radical environmental policy. It was a no-go with our voters,” she said

Democrats needed to pick up two Senate seats to regain full control in Olympia. Rep. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, was winning easily in the 48th District race to replace retiring Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who had sided with Republicans to give them a narrow majority the last two years.

But Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, Mason County, who also joined Republicans to form the Majority Coalition Caucus, was leading piano teacher Irene Bowling in the 35th District.

And Democrats were losing the open seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide in the 30th District. Veteran state Rep. Mark Miloscia, a former Democrat running as a Republican, was defeating real-estate broker Shari Song.

In this year’s most expensive legislative campaign, incumbent Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, was leading Democratic challenger Matt Isenhower in the Eastside’s 45th District, 53 to 47 percent. Hill, a former Microsoft manager, raised almost $1 million to Isenhower’s $500,000. More than $1.4 million was spent by outside groups on the race.

Hill, one of three incumbent Republicans targeted by the Washington Conservation Voters, said he was happy with the initial returns.

”They’re strong numbers. Voters have seen me for four years. I think they appreciated my focus on education and my bipartisan approach,” said Hill from the GOP election-night party at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue.

Isenhower held out hope that late returns could trend in his favor.

“It is a 1,500 gap at this point and that has been overcome certainly in other races. We will fight until every ballot is counted,” Isenhower said from the Democrats’ party at the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville.

In another race targeted by environmentalists, incumbent Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, was well ahead of former Bellingham City Councilmember Seth Fleetwood in the 42nd District in Whatcom County.

The Washington Conservation Voters called Ericksen, chairman of the Senate energy committee, “the biggest roadblock to environmental progress in the state Legislature.”

Ericksen said the results mirrored the Republican victories in other states.

“I think all the country and in Washington state, a mandate was delivered.”

Ericksen, a six-term representative before being elected to the Senate in 2010, raised about $503,000 to Fleetwood’s $414,000, but Fleetwood benefited from another $460,000 in independent expenditures.

In the Puget Sound region, Democrats relied on a get-out-the-vote push to attract younger and more liberal voters who sometimes skip midterm elections. Republicans argued that the Majority Caucus brought fiscal responsibility and restraint to a Democratic-dominated state government.

In another Senate contest that drew financial and organizational support from environmentalists, incumbent Republican Senator Steve O’Ban, of University Place, was leading state Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, in the 28th District in Pierce County.

Combative Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, was edging Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, in the 31st District. Roach is the longest-serving state legislator of her party, but has a history of being reprimanded by leadership for losing her temper with staff and colleagues.

In state House races, Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, was easily beating socialist Jess Spear for the 43rd District seat. In the 37th District, former immigrant-rights advocate Pramila Jayapal led another Democrat, Louis Watanabe.

And Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, was winning in his effort to retain his 45th District seat against Republican challenger Joel Hussey in a race that featured allegations that Goodman, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, had driven his children in the family car while stoned.

Seattle Times reporters Coral Garnick and Erik Lacitis contributed to this report. Lynn Thompson: On Twitter at lthompsontimes.

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