The mostly Republican coalition that runs the state Senate was waiting Tuesday evening to learn the size of its majority next year.
The group holds the Senate by a slim one-vote margin and hopes to add to it by grabbing the seat in Pierce and Kitsap counties left behind by Derek Kilmer when the Democrat headed to Congress.
Their candidate, Port Orchard Republican Jan Angel, was leading a tight race with Gig Harbor Democrat Nathan Schlicher in a special election for Kilmer’s seat.
Schlicher managed to significantly cut into his rival’s August primary-election lead of nine percentage points, and he had a strong showing in Pierce County — but he still trailed Angel.
“By no means is it over, and we’re excited to see where it goes,” said Schlicher, who argued his side’s turnout operation could turn the tide among last-minute voters. “If Kitsap performs where it historically has, that will make it a really, really close race.”
The 26th District runs from the Tacoma Narrows bridges to Bremerton and is closely divided along party lines.
Schlicher, an emergency-room doctor, was appointed in January to represent the area and still will be a senator when state lawmakers convene Thursday for a special session called by Gov. Jay Inslee to pass legislation aimed at persuading Boeing to build its 777X airplane in Washington.
But by the time lawmakers return for their regular 60-day session in January, the majority coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats hope Angel, a three-term House member and former real-estate agent and hair salon owner, will join them in the Senate.
Partly because it was the lone partisan state contest this year, it set new records for spending in a legislative race, fueled by independent groups on both sides.
Together, the candidates and groups spent nearly $3 million on advertising, canvassing and other efforts. That was more than both of the previous highest-spending legislative races combined.
“The thing that I’m most proud of,” Angel said as early results favored her, “is I’ve always trusted our voters and our people and I think the 26th District seat could not be bought.”
Thomas Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist from California, helped fund attacks on Angel, including ads targeting her for support of a measure that would have repealed state health insurance mandates in favor of federal mandates.
Companies and business groups from the retail, insurance, housing, tobacco, alcohol and other industries contributed to the GOP group funding attacks on Schlicher. They criticized Schlicher for siding with fellow Democrats on a higher level of spending this year than Republicans wanted and for supporting tax changes that increased revenue to the state.
While Angel opposed the taxes on large estates of married couples and on telecommunications service, both candidates ended up voting for a state budget that depended on the taxes.
Neither voiced support for a gas-tax increase proposed to fund projects like an extension of state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma, an idea that could return in the aerospace-oriented special session.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826