Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 06:03 AM
Republican hopes of winning control of the state Senate foundered, as the party found itself in danger of losing two of its current seats even while winning two new ones.
Democrats held the lead in two key races in King and Snohomish counties, as longtime Senate education chair Rosemary McAuliffe fended off Dawn McCravey and Mark Mullet led Brian Toft for an open seat.
One powerful Democrat, longtime Senate transportation chair Mary Margaret Haugen, was trailing Republican Rep. Barbara Bailey.
The GOP, as expected, picked up the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Jim Kastama, as Rep. Bruce Dammeier clobbered underfunded Democrat Eric Herde, a college student, 61 to 39 percent.
But Vancouver-area Republican Sen. Don Benton was trailing Rep. Tim Probst, a Democrat, by a narrow margin in the initial vote count.
Republicans' hopes for a Senate takeover were premised on ousting both McAuliffe and Haugen, winning Kastama's former Pierce County seat, and holding all their current positions.
Executing on that game plan became more difficult when Republican Sen. Cheryl Pflug unexpectedly resigned after the filing deadline. She spurned her Republican challenger, Brad Toft, throwing her support to Democrat Mark Mullet.
Democrats also counterpunched in the 17th District, generously funding Probst's bid to replace Benton. Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt said he believes subsequent vote counts will give the victory to Benton and help the GOP will narrow Democrats' 27-22 majority by one seat.
Sen. David Frockt, Democratic campaign co-chair, said Mullet's strong showing demonstrates suburban voters appreciate a candidate who is "fiscally moderate and socially progressive."
Candidates and their supporters raised and spent more than $1 million in each of the four highest-profile races — with independent expenditures by the parties and special interests in some cases spending more than the candidates.
Because several Democratic incumbents have sided with Republicans on major issues, including the budget, it is not clear how the election results will translate into future legislative outcomes.
Here's a summary of the key, million-dollar matchups.
5th Legislative District
Mullet led Toft 54 to 46 percent. The race became one of the most closely watched in the state. Toft was hurt by reports he tried to seal a lawsuit by inaccurately suggesting to a judge that he wasn't a party in the suit. The Republican-leaning district includes Maple Valley, North Bend and Issaquah.
But Toft seemed to gain traction when Sen. Rodney Tom, a Democrat, joined Republicans in calling for an investigation into whether Gov. Chris Gregoire's appointment of Pflug to a state job was part of a backroom deal to help Democrats win the seat.
1st Legislative District
McAuliffe led McCravey, a Northshore School Board member, 55 to 45 percent. McAuliffe has represented the district, which includes Bothell and nearby parts of King and Snohomish counties, for 20 years.
Stand for Children Washington, which advocates charter schools and tougher scrutiny of teacher performance, spent $256,000 on ads attacking McAuliffe. The Washington Education Association bankrolled $187,000 of independent campaigning for McAuliffe.
10th Legislative District
Bailey led Haugen 53 to 47 percent. Haugen touted her record of bringing money for ferries and highways to the district, which encompasses Whidbey and Camano islands, Stanwood and La Conner.
Bailey said Tuesday voters showed they want more controls on government spending, and she didn't know if Haugen's vote in the Senate to allow gay marriage eroded voters' support for her.
17th Legislative District
Probst led Benton 50.3 to 49.7 percent.
Both parties poured huge resources into the contest between Benton and Probst.
Benton at one point threatened to sue Probst for "false and misleading" statements about Benton's voting record and the circumstances under which he was replaced as chairman of the state Republican Party. The district includes parts of Vancouver.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org