The Next Multi-Million-Dollar Special Election Is in Seattle

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A special election gives Democrats a chance for a state government “trifecta” in Washington — and some national momentum going into the 2018 midterms. Photo: KingWu/Getty Images

With no competitive congressional special elections left on the calendar for 2017, restless political speculators — and, in particular, disappointed Democrats looking for a clear W after a series of close special-election losses — are focusing on a state legislative race in Washington that could flip control of that state’s senate and give the Donkey Party its third West Coast trifecta. (It already controls the governorships and both legislative chambers in both California and Oregon.)

The venue for this race is culturally very different from the heartland locations in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina, where the competitive House special elections were held. The 45th Senate district is in Seattle’s tech-heavy Eastside suburbs, a wealthy and diverse area. The candidates are a bit different too, with Republicans staking their hopes on a Korean-American woman and former Bitcoin activist, Jinyoung Lee Englund, while most Democrats are backing King County prosecutor Manka Dhingra, an Indian-American woman.

The district tilts Democratic in most elections. (Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump there by better than a two-to-one margin, and the area is represented by two Democrats in the state house.) But Republican Andy Hill narrowly won the Senate seat in 2010 and 2014, and his death last year is what made the 2017 special election necessary; under Washington’s unusual procedures for filling legislative vacancies, King County Republicans appointed former two-time gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi to the post pending the special election. Primaries will be held on August 1, and the general election on November 7. If Dhingra wins, then — barring a big upset in another special election — the Democrats will gain control of the state Senate, which is currently held by Republicans in coalition with a conservative Democrat.

Both candidates appear to be pretty good at raising money, but supply could well outstrip the demand, as Politico explains:

Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund and Democrat Manka Dhingra have already raised about $500,000 each, more than all but four Washington state Senate candidates in last year’s full election cycle. By the November election, observers estimated that the total price tag for the seat — and control of the state Senate — could reach or exceed $10 million, an enormous sum for a single state legislative race.

The national party committees, and particularly the branches that focus on state legislative elections (the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and the Republican State Leadership Committee), are very committed to this race. Democrats appear to welcome its “nationalization,” given Trump’s manifest unpopularity in the district. Englund’s message is that Republican control of the state Senate is the only thing standing in the way of sinister Democratic plans to enact a state personal-income tax (which Dhingra says she opposes) and other soak-the-rich levies. Democratic climate-change activism is another potentially important issue, which Englund is probably alluding to when she attacks “Seattle-style politicians [who] want to get rid of cars.” A possible sleeper issue in this battle between two Asian-American women is cultural: Pro-choice groups are already strongly backing Dhingra, and they accuse Englund of harboring extremist anti-abortion views. (She is, among other things, a former staffer for conservative U.S. rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers.)

From a national point of view, however, all that matters about these two candidates is their party ID and the opportunity to claim off-year momentum. That is apparently worth millions, and another investment of partisan emotion.

The Next Multi-Million-Dollar Special Election Is in Seattle