Republican state Sen. Ron Muzzall will return to Olympia after edging Democratic challenger Helen Price Johnson in a tight duel that emerged as one of the year’s most expensive electoral contests.
Muzzall garnered 50.9 percent and led Price Johnson by 1,649 votes as of Thursday evening. After trailing on Election Night, Muzzall moved in front Nov. 5 and added to his lead in each subsequent ballot count.
Price Johnson, an Island County commissioner, phoned Wednesday morning to congratulate Muzzall, a fellow Whidbey Island native. There are ballots to be counted in this 10th Legislative District race but not many and the math didn’t work in her favor.
“We’re watching to see what happens but the gap keeps growing,” she said in an interview.
“I’m disappointed that I couldn’t win this seat. I’m really proud of the campaign that my team ran.”
Price Johnson informed supporters in an email.
“While our campaign is ending, our work to improve the lives of rural communities has just begun,” she wrote. “I will stay active and involved, and will continue to speak out on issues that affect our islands and rural Washington.”
Muzzall, a fourth generation farmer and manager of 3 Sisters Family Farm, was appointed in 2019 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Sen. Barbara Bailey.
He’ll serve a four-year term representing the district which includes all of Island County, the northwestern tip of Snohomish and the southwestern part of Skagit counties.
Cities in the district include Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Langley, Mount Vernon, La Conner and Stanwood.
Muzzall said he remained confident even when he found himself behind Election Day. It mirrored his experience of the primary when later vote tallies broke his way and he wound up winning.
He praised his “amazing” supporters, adding a special thanks to independents “which I had to have to win the election.”
“I am an outsider. Being an outsider helped. Voters wanted that,” he said.
This year found the district once again a battle ground for the Republican and Democratic parties and their respective allies.
Price Johnson outraised Muzzall, hauling in $665,000 to his $505,000. Each found themselves the targets of well-funded opposition campaigns funded by independent political committees.
Muzzall’s foes spent roughly $574,000 in mailers and commercials attacking him. Nearly all the money was funneled through the New Directions political action committee whose largest contributors include statewide unions representing teachers, state employees, and health care workers, as well as environmentalists, lawyers and tribes.
Price Johnson’s opponents spent $785,000 in their efforts. The largest chunk came through the WA Forward political action committee whose largest donors include Republican senators and statewide associations of builders and businesses. In addition, the Washington Association of Realtors spent in excess of $200,000 to defeat her.
Meanwhile, the races for the district’s two House seats remained close Thursday.
Republican Greg Gilday of Camano Island widened his lead on Democrat Angie Homola of Oak Harbor as ballot counting continued in their battle to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Norma Smith, Gilday, who trailed Homola on Election Day, led by 809 votes Thursday evening. He has 50.4 percent to her 49.4 percent, a margin that is outside the range triggering an automatic recount.
Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, who is seeking a second term, is ahead of Republican challenger Bill Bruch of La Conner by a margin of 50.4 percent to 49.5 percent. They are separated by 809 votes.