GOP Harbors Hope of Olympia Takeover



Washington State - With the resumption of absentee ballot counting this morning, Republican legislators like Rep. Jim Clements will be watching closely for signs the Democrats are losing their tenuous lead in the state House.

"We just don't know. And when you're in politics, you don't guess," said Clements, the Republican from Selah who was elected to his fifth term in the 14th District.

Republican Party officials are more optimistic about their chances of toppling Democratic rule in the state Senate.

If current results hold, Republicans will have a 25-24 majority, said Mary Lane, spokeswoman for the Republican Party in Olympia. Republicans lost control of the Senate in 1998.

In a Republican Senate, longtime Sen. Alex Deccio of Yakima would be the seventh highest-ranking majority member. As the ranking Republican on the Health and Long-Term Care Committee, he would become its chairman in a Republican Senate, Lane said.

Deccio could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Republican rule in the Senate would help balance Democratic rule in the House, Clements said.

In the weeks before the election, Republicans harbored hopes of winning a majority in the House, where Democrats controlled a thin 50-48 majority.

But partial, unofficial returns on Election Day have quelled those hopes for now. As of Tuesday evening, Republicans had dropped to 47 seats while Democrats gained to 51. Republicans trail in seven races by two percentage points or less, Lane said.

Clements said in many of those races, leads are as slim as 150 to 200 votes. He also said the late mailing of absentee ballots in King County added another unknowable to the guessing game.

Election officials in King County have said the late mailing did not affect returns. There were reports, however, that counting was behind schedule because of a higher-than-expected turnout.

Observers say Friday would be the earliest possible day for a definitive outcome in those neck-and-neck races.

Absentee votes tend to favor Republicans, according to state GOP chairman Chris Vance.

"There's no doubt these are razor-thin races, but Republicans have every reason to be optimistic," Vance said.

Clements has expressed interest in serving as Speaker of the House if Republicans win control. He thinks the votes could shake out into a tie between the parties.

"Forty-nine to 49 is probably a real possibility," he said.

If there is a stalemate, Clements said he would be interested in a shared leadership role.


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