Washington state Democrats celebrate lead in key Senate race

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington state Democrats on Wednesday were celebrating their lead in a key state Senate race that could put them back in charge of both legislative chambers for the first time in five years.

Democrat Manka Dhingra, a 43-year-old prosecutor for King County, was leading Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund with 55 percent of the vote Tuesday night In the race for the 45th District in Seattle's eastern suburbs.

The next ballot update was set for late Wednesday.

The political implications in the state and beyond helped the race break legislative spending records in Washington.

More than $8.7 million had been spent on the campaigns as of this week, with about $5.9 million coming from third-party groups.

With a win by Dhingra, Washington would join Oregon and California with Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers and the governor's office.

Republicans in Washington state, with the help of a Democrat who caucuses with them, currently control the Senate by a single seat. Democrats hold a slim 50-48 majority in the House.

Democratic Sen. Sharon Nelson, minority leader in the Senate, issued a statement Tuesday night saying "our new majority will work hard every single day to build a better Washington that offers opportunity and a voice to every single person in this state."

In a tweet, Gov. Jay Inslee congratulated Dhingra, writing that her vision for the district resonated with voters.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Wednesday that he was disappointed with the results.

"We'll watch and see what happens," he said. "I think that fiscal responsibility just went out the window if the majority flips."

Dhingra and Englund — both political newcomers — were seeking to fill the final year of a term left vacant by the death of Republican Sen. Andy Hill. The winner must run again in 2018.

Englund, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers who also worked for The Bitcoin Foundation, was still holding out hope Tuesday night that the gap would tighten as more votes were counted.

"This is a very big decision" for voters, she said. "The race isn't about me. It's about the balance of power."

Dhingra called the results "a victory by a very wide margin."

She believes the national political environment helped energize voters who had more than President Donald Trump on their mind while casting ballots.

"I think people are realizing they cannot be bystanders anymore," she said. "I think this is what you get when people are awake and paying attention."