Pearson, Loomis locked in battle that will decide control of Legislature

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

If Tuesday night’s election was a nail-biter, Kirk Pearson and Liz Loomis could be down to their knuckles by the time they know which one of them is headed to Olympia in January.

And state party leaders will be gnawing along with them, wondering which group will control the state House.

"The Kirk Pearson seat could determine control of the House of Representatives," state Republican Party Chairman Don Benton said.

Loomis, a Democrat, led in the results all the way through the 11:30 p.m. posting. But at midnight, Pearson, a Republican, suddenly took the lead. With about 80 percent of the district’s vote counted by early Wednesday morning, Pearson led by 773 votes.

"Pundits say if you’re losing between 1,000 and 1,500 votes on election night, just pack it up, so we’re still within striking distance," an upbeat Loomis said Wednesday afternoon. "We’ve worked the absentees really hard, which is why I’m not willing to concede."

Pearson, exhaustion and a burgeoning cold evident in his voice, said the first thing he did Wednesday was call his 90-year-old grandmother in Monroe. She had gone to bed early Tuesday, when he was still losing the race.

It’s only going to get tighter, said Scott Konopasek, the Snohomish County elections director.

The initial absentees gave Loomis 51 percent and Pearson 46 percent. Those numbers reversed at the polls.

"The ballots from here on out are absentee ballots," Konopasek said, "and I would expect that the trends from the first run of absentee ballots will continue through the subsequent runs."

Officials plan to count more than 4,000 ballots from the district ThursdayT. Recounts are required when races are within half a percentage point.

An analysis by The Herald of the precincts in the 39th Legislative District showed that, from the votes cast at the polls and the initial absentee ballots that were counted Tuesday night, Pearson carried his hometown of Monroe and Loomis carried Snohomish, where she’s a city councilwoman.

Pearson also received significantly more votes in Darrington and unincorporated east county, whereas Loomis won Index, Lake Stevens and Marysville. They were running about even in Arlington, Gold Bar, Granite Falls, Sultan and unincorporated north county.

The analysis did not include about 400 voters in the district who live in King County.

The results will ripple beyond Snohomish County.

The House has been operating under a 49-49 split for two years. Benton said he expects to lose one GOP seat, but gain two — one of those is Republican Barry Sehlin of Oak Harbor, who’s leading incumbent Rep. Dave Anderson, D-Clinton — and hold on to two more that were too close to call Wednesday.

"The late-breaking absentees always go in our favor," he said.

Loomis and Pearson are competing for Rep. John Koster’s seat. The Arlington Republican stepped down this year to run for Congress. So if Pearson can hang on, Republicans will have a one-vote majority in the chamber.

But Paul Berendt, the state Democratic Party chairman, had a different prediction.

He expects that Democrats will control the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers for the next two years, albeit with slim majorities.

Both Berendt and Benton agreed that the Senate races were pretty much decided. Republicans picked up two Democratic spots, which means the Democrats’ previous five-seat majority dwindled to one.

Benton said he was still holding out hope that Republican Norma Smith of Clinton might oust incumbent Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. Haugen, however, was ahead by nearly 2,000 votes Wednesday.

"I think we’re going to have to wait a week to see," Berendt said.

Added Loomis: "I knew no matter how much we did, it would be a razor-thin election year for everybody."

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