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With Wash. statehouse at stake, Democrats seek to build West Coast wall of Trump resistance

Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

REDMOND, Wash. -- One year ago, Manka Dhingra was preparing for a celebration, a gathering of family and friends to mark Hillary Clinton's election as the nation's first woman president.

Today, she is bearing the hopes and dreams of Democrats crushed by Clinton's loss and trying to help the party pull itself from a deep hole.

A state Senate race pitting two campaign novices in the upscale suburbs east of Seattle has turned into a major battle between the two national parties, becoming the costliest legislative contest in state history and serving as a test of the Donald Trump effect far from the other Washington.

At stake is control of the state Capitol in Olympia. Democrats, who run the governments in California and Oregon, hope to build a blue wall of resistance the length of the West Coast and get a shot of momentum ahead of 2018 by extending their legislative winning streak under Trump.

The election Tuesday "is an awakening" for activists "who might otherwise feel powerless about what's going on in D.C.," said Tina Podlodowski, head of the state Democratic Party. "We can elect great people around the country who can stop the worst of the Trump agenda."

For Republicans, the contest is a fight to preserve their toehold in Olympia, to stop the worst excesses of Democratic rule and elect an exuberant millennial, Jinyoung Englund, whose family history -- she is the child of Korean immigrants -- and background reflect the changes remaking this thriving high-tech hub, a home to Microsoft, T-Mobile and SpaceX among others.

As for Trump, Englund and her supporters insist the race has everything to do with local personalities and issues and nothing whatever to do with the president or his policies. "It's not an issue of Republican versus Democrat," Englund said. "It's an issue of one-party control and what does that mean."

For residents, concerns include education funding -- the schools are among the best in the state -- and the hellish traffic that spills off backed-up freeways, sending cars snaking bumper-to-bumper through their hilly neighborhoods.

For the rest of the state, issues such as taxes, health care, climate change and voting rights all hinge on control of the Senate, where Republicans -- clinging to a single-vote majority -- have served as a check on Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Democrats running the House. Tuesday's election is to fill a seat vacated when a Republican senator died in office, leaving the chamber evenly split.

"If you have one-party rule ... you can see what happens in Seattle," said Susan Hutchison, the state GOP chair, using Republican shorthand depicting the city as a slough of drugs, homelessness and wacky liberalism. "It's dangerous."

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