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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

Still, despite those overtones, Trump's presence looms as surely as the rain clouds hanging over this wet corner of the country.

Dhingra, 42, probably wouldn't be a candidate if Trump hadn't been elected. "I love my job," said the veteran King County prosecutor and mother of two teens. "I love working with nonprofits. I love being involved with my kids in school."

Dixie Swenson, 78, wouldn't be among the legion of campaign volunteers along with her 81-year-old husband, Keith, if the pugnacious president hadn't driven the two of them a little batty. "We spent a few weeks yelling at the TV and found that didn't do any good," Swenson said cheerily. "So we found a way to get involved."

And the race might not have drawn national attention from the likes of former Vice President Joe Biden, who recently endorsed Dhingra, and record-shattering millions -- $8.5 million and counting -- had Democrats not been desperate to reverse their fortunes after the political devastation of the last eight years.

Under President Barack Obama, Democrats lost more than 1,000 legislative seats nationwide, leaving the party at its lowest standing in statehouses since 1920, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"For a long time, Democrats across the country had a philosophy of elect a president and a majority in the Senate and it all trickles down," said Jessica Post, who heads the party's legislative campaign committee.

Now Democrats are looking to rebuild from the ground up, she said, to groom candidates for higher office, construct a state-level bulwark against Trump's policies and position Democrats for a greater say when legislative and congressional districts are redrawn after the 2020 census.

The result so far: Democrats have flipped eight state legislative seats since Trump took office, including GOP-leaning districts in Oklahoma and New Hampshire. While that's a fractional sample size -- there are more than 7,000 legislative seats nationwide -- Republicans acknowledge the stiffer competition.

"They are energized, mobilized and sending resources across the country in a way they have not in the past," said Matt Walter, head of the GOP's legislative campaign effort. "That is very, very real."

All that national attention has had a somewhat perverse effect here in Washington, as though the contest has been hijacked from the candidates themselves. Advertising by outside interests offer a caricature of the two: Dhingra as a left-wing radical, Englund as a lockstep Trump loyalist.

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