Sharon Shewmake led Simon Sefzik in a closely watched state Senate race in Whatcom County, after initial vote totals on election night.
Initial results on Tuesday, Nov. 8 showed Democrat Shewmake leading incumbent Republican Sefzik 51.3% to 48.6%. Thousands of ballots remain to be counted in the 42nd Legislative District, which includes north Bellingham and most of Whatcom County.
Some election observers said the late vote count could skew Republican, as many party faithful may have held onto their ballots until Election Day.
"I think we were expecting to be down in the early count," Sefzik said at a Republican gathering at the fairgrounds in Lynden. "I know that Republicans are still doing well in this district, relative to other sort of close districts in the state, so we're just going to wait and see what happens."
Shewmake declared victory during a speech at a Democratic Party event at the Hotel Leo in Bellingham.
"We trust the process," she said. "We trust democracy. We're going to revel in this win, but we're going to be back at it, again and again and again."
Though he didn't concede defeat, Sefzik hinted at a gracious exit if the final count doesn't go his way.
"If Rep. Shewmake wins, it's our job to wish her the best, and that's the way the process works," he said.
As chairs and tables are stacked up and put away, Sen. Simon Sefzik shakes hands with supporters Susan, right, and Jazmyn Prosser after the results came in during the Election Night Victory Party at the Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center's Fair Farm Pavilion on Nov. 8. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
A good measure of the statewide significance of the 42nd District Senate race is the amount of money the two campaigns attracted. Sefzik raised $796,000 and Shewmake’s campaign had $682,000 as of Nov. 4 — the second- and fourth-highest fundraising totals among Senate candidates in the state. The two parties invested heavily in the race, with Republicans contributing 44% to Sefzik’s total and Democrats giving Shewmake 48% of her haul this election year.
At stake is control of the Legislature. To flip the Senate, Republicans need to defeat four of the 17 incumbent Democrats up for election this year — and hold onto all eight seats they are defending, including Sefzik’s.
Sefzik’s campaign platform contained three main planks: affordability, public safety and government accountability.
During her campaign, Shewmake, an economics professor at Western Washington University, trumpeted her status as the only economist in the Legislature.
Her campaign pivoted to abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“Even here in Washington, reproductive rights are on the line,” Shewmake said on her campaign’s Facebook page on Nov. 2. “My opponent refuses to tell you where he stands.”
In fact, Sefzik has said he is “proudly pro-life,” though he believed Democrats are using abortion to distract from issues Republicans say matter more to voters, including inflation and crime.
Nolan Baker contributed to the reporting of this story.