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Democrat leads in 45th District race to control state Senate

Manka Dhingra addresses supporters Tuesday night. (Photo: KOMO News)

Democrat Manka Dhingra took a strong early lead Tuesday night in a state Senate race on the Eastside that will determine the balance of power at the Washington Capitol.

If the results hold and the Washington Senate flips, the state will join Oregon and California with Democratic one-party rule in both legislative chambers and the governor's office.

The first posting of ballots show Dhingra leading Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund with 55 percent of the vote. Under the state's vote-by-mail system, ballots just need to be postmarked or dropped off by Tuesday, which means that final results may not be known for days. The next ballot update is set for late Wednesday afternoon.

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

Tuesday's race for the 45th District, one of eight special elections for the state Legislature this year, has broken all previous legislative spending records in the state because of the significance of the outcome. As of Monday, more than $8.7 million had been spent on the race, with much of it — about $5.9 million — being spent by third-party groups.

Dhingra noted Tuesday night that the outside campaigns used what she called "tribalism" in an "us vs. them" approach.

"In this story, I was the them," she said."In the face of those attacks, I never lost courage. It's because of each and everyone of you."

Englund express confidence on Tuesday night that the race is not over.

"It's not a big gap at all," she said. "We expected it to be close."

Dhingra, a 43-year-old senior deputy prosecuting attorney with the King County Prosecutor's Office, had a 10-point lead over Englund in August's top-two primary as both advanced to the November ballot. Dhingra was born in India, and her family moved to the U.S. when she was a teen. She oversees therapeutic alternative courts for the mentally ill and veterans and founded a nonprofit to address domestic violence in the area's South Asian community.

Englund, who is Korean-American, was previously a staffer for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington as well as for The Bitcoin Foundation, a digital currency advocacy group, and worked on projects for the military.

The two political newcomers were seeking to serve the last year of a four-year term left vacant by last year's death of Republican Sen. Andy Hill. The winner will need to run again in 2018.

There are four other special elections in the Senate, and three in the House, though none of those races are expected to change the current balance of power in the Legislature.

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