One of Tuesday’s biggest wins, second only in importance to the Virginia governorship, came in Washington state, where Democrats flipped a crucial state Senate seat that gave them a majority in the chamber and, with it, control of the entire state government. Thanks to a turncoat Democrat named Tim Sheldon, Republicans had clung to a narrow 25-24 majority for years and thus stymied all manner of progressive priorities, even though Democrats have long held the state House and governor’s mansion.
But late last year, GOP state Sen. Andy Hill died, prompting Tuesday’s special election between Democrat Manka Dhingra, the Democratic nominee, and former congressional aide Jinyoung Lee Englund, the Republican candidate, in the state’s 45th District in the northeastern Seattle suburbs. This seat shifted sharply to the left last year, as Hillary Clinton carried it by a 65-28 margin following a 58-40 win for Barack Obama in 2012, presenting Democrats with the opportunity they’d been anticipating for years. But the 45th had always been amenable to Republicans with pragmatic profiles like Hill, so it was by no means a gimme, despite the presidential numbers.
And as you’d expect, the GOP was determined to fight like hell to keep it, because it represented the entire ballgame: Win and maintain their roadblock or lose and go home, perhaps forever. As a result, the race became the most expensive in state history, with an astounding $10 million spent by the two campaigns and their allies.
But the portents were ominous for Republicans. In the August top-two primary, in which all candidates from all parties ran together on a single ballot, Dhingra led Englund by a sizable 52 to 41 margin. While both candidates advanced to the November general election, Washington’s primaries tend to be very strong predictors of the ultimate results, and indeed they were: While many votes remain to be counted, Dhingra leads Englund 55-45, and that advantage is only likely to grow. Englund hasn’t yet conceded, but her hopes of pulling this one out are zero.
And that means, once the results are certified next month, Democrats will take over the Senate, opening up a world of possibilities. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee says he plans to push for legislation to address climate change, including a cap-and-trade bill and a carbon tax, while state Sen. Andy Billig, who is likely to become deputy majority leader once the handover takes place, says he wants “to pass the biggest jobs bill to ever come out of Olympia.”
Of course, these audacious plans will still have to contend with narrow majorities and competing interests. But a new day will soon dawn in Washington, a blue state that finally has the government it deserves.
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