Tuesday night’s results put Democrat Manka Dhingra ahead of Republican Jinyoung Englund by double digits in a race for a state Senate seat in Seattle’s northeastern suburbs.
Englund has not conceded the race in the 45th district. But Dhingra’s supporters say they have flipped the Senate to Democratic control.
It was, hands down, the most expensive race ever for a seat beneath Olympia’s capitol dome. The money for just this one race works out to $94 for every voter in this district of wealthy suburbs and high-tech businesses.
(It’s more than triple the $28 per voter in the previous record-setting race, which happened to be the contest for the same seat in 2014.)
“Today, I checked my voice mail. I had 22 voice mails from different organizations slating each candidate,” said Rita Badh of Sammamish, a 45th-District voter who has been deluged with political ads.
Badh said she’s never experienced anything like it.
“It does bother me. I think there’s a lot of misinformation,” she said. “They’re misquoting candidates, and there’s a lot of scaremongering.”
“It was overwhelming, and there were so many that had just complete untruths,” said Megan Anderson of Redmond.
“I hope people aren’t getting swayed by that, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be our new reality, where there’s all of this outside money that’s just going to come out and say a bunch of untrue things just because they can,” she said.
Money surged into this race for one big reason.
“This is the last Republican-controlled chamber on the West Coast, and flipping control to the Democrats will help us stand up for progressive values in Washington and help create a blue wall,” said Mari Neubauer with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. The arm of the national Democratic Party focuses on winning state legislatures across the country.
“We have been heavily invested in this race,” Neubauer said. “We’ve spent over $750,000 on the independent side and coordinated side in this effort.”
Neubauer said her organization put more money into this race than any other state legislative race in the country.
Local Democrats at Dhingra’s get-together tried to frame the results as a victory of populism over big money.
“She didn’t have the big money. She didn’t have the corporate checks. She did not have big oil. She did not have the special interests,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said to the crowd at the Red Hook brewery. “You know who she had? She had you guys!”
But both sides spent record-breaking amounts. Or as Manka Dhingra puts it: “The amount of money in this race is insane. It tells me we need campaign finance reform.”
The Republican side spent $4.7 million — between the campaign and outside groups making virtually unlimited “independent” expenditures — about 14 percent more than the Democrats’ $4.1 million, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.
Major oil companies including Tesoro and Phillips 66 dropped major cash to help Englund and possibly avoid new taxes on fossil fuels.
Billionaires Michael Bloomberg of New York and Tom Steyer of California did the same to help Dhingra and fight climate change.
Big money or no, Dhingra told the crowd, “Democracy is alive and well.”
“I see this election as people waking up,” she told KUOW. “People really being engaged in democracy and people understanding that if they stay at home and don’t pay attention, bad things can happen.”
At her party, also in Woodinville, Englund told supporters, despite her money advantage, that she was the underdog and said their support for an underdog really meant a lot to her.
“You said, ‘You know what? I'm not just going to sit at home and live my life and turn a blind eye to what's happening in our state,’” she said.
“We all fought for one purpose, and that's to ensure a balance of power in our state,” Englund said.
She posted on Facebook Tuesday night, “There are still a lot of votes left to be counted.”
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders were counting their chickens.
“We were hoping for a win, but that was way over 10 points. That is a landslide," King County Executive Dow Constantine said to the crowd at Dhingra’s Election Night party. "Tonight, we take back control of the state Senate!"
Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington state Democratic Party, told the crowd they had just put the last brick in “the big blue wall.”
“The big blue wall means California, Oregon, all of us together can pass statewide policies that are against the Trump agenda,” she told KUOW.
About one in six Americans lives in the three states.
John Ryan loves getting tips and documents. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the encrypted Signal or WhatsApp apps at 1-401-405-1206 (whistleblowers, never do so from a work or government device, account or location). For greatest security, use KUOW's SecureDrop portal. Snail mail is also a safe way to reach him confidentially: KUOW, 4518 University Way NE #310, Seattle, WA 98105. Don't put your return address on the outside.