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AP declares Manka Dhingra winner in state Senate race; Dems in control

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

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Democrats have won a key state Senate race that puts them back in charge of both legislative chambers for the first time in five years.

After the latest returns were tallied Wednesday, Manka Dhingra, a 43-year-old prosecutor for King County, held a commanding lead over Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund with 55 percent of the vote in the race for the 45th District in Seattle's eastern suburbs. Votes will continue to be tallied in the coming days due to the state's mail-in voting process, but the margin Wednesday was essentially the same as the first results on election night.

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 more than half coming from third-party groups.

With Dhingra's victory, Washington joins Oregon and California with Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers and the governor's office.

"One seat makes all the difference because now the democrats will now decide which bills make it for a vote," said political consultant and former state republican party chair Chris Vance.

Republicans in the 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."

A tweet later sent out by the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus simply stated: "Moving forward in hopes of additional bipartisan successes and the continued protection of Washington taxpayers."

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. Dhingra must run again in 2018, when about half of the Senate and the entire House is up for re-election.

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

"With only 1,700 ballots counted today, we will continue to watch the returns come in," said campaign spokeswoman Lisa Schreiner

Dhingra, who had already declared victory Tuesday night, said she believed the national political environment helped energize voters.

"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."

State republican party chair Susan Hutchison issued a statement on Wednesday saying: "If Democrats are true to form, they will raise taxes on working families, reroute money away from education and pander to their special interests. If they do, 2018 will be a very good year for Republicans, and the GOP will flip seats in the State House to gain the majority there."

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