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Primary sets up a 16th District senate race to watch

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WW Primaries

Perry Dozier, 16th Legislative District Senate candidate, reads over election results with his wife, Darleen, Tuesday night at the Walla Walla County Courthouse.

Preliminary results for Washington’s 16th Legislative District primary election are in: Democratic candidate Danielle Garbe Reser and Republican Perry Dozier hold a lead over Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, in the state’s top-two Senate primary.

Tuesday’s results show Garbe Reser, diplomat and former CEO, leading the field with 7,547 votes, or 37%. Dozier, farmer and former Walla Walla County commissioner, holds the second spot with 6,788 votes, 33.4%.

Bill Jenkin, a businessman and two-term representative, faces elimination with 5,965 votes, or 29.3%.

Ballots that were turned in or postmarked on Tuesday will be added to the tally in the coming days. Elections won’t be official until certified by each county on Aug. 18.

For now, the 800-vote disparity between Dozier and Jenkin seems to foreshadow the elimination of Jenkin, who gave up re-election efforts to the statehouse to run for Senate. Jenkin is less sure, declining to concede until Walla Walla and Benton counties wrap up counting.

“We still have a long way to go,” Jenkin said this morning. “I’m still hopeful. We still have a lot of votes that need to be counted.”

Jenkin’s hopes rest on the 6,000 or so ballots remaining in Benton County that makes up a portion of the 16th District, and the 2,000 remaining ballots in Walla Walla. Based on the initial results, his support looks stronger in the former county than the latter, but his elimination is still expected.

After the results were released, Garbe Reser said she was honored to hold the lead.

“It is clear how important it is to have a strong primary turnout,” Garbe Reser said. “I’m thrilled by the trends we’re seeing so far and excited that we’re in the lead heading into November.”

Perry Dozier said his intimate knowledge of the district and how things work gave him an edge.

“I think that being the past county commissioner I understand a lot of the legislation that comes down from Olympia, and how it affects us,” Dozier said.

Should further results confirm the placement, the Senate race between Garbe Reser and Dozier has potential to be one of the state’s most watched this year.

Washington Democrats, looking to build an impenetrable Senate majority, have rallied around the former diplomat to help her raise a whopping $225,000 in campaign contributions. Comparatively, Dozier and Jenkin raised $65,000 and $50,000, respectively.

Should she pull it off, Garbe Reser would be the first Democrat in over two decades to represent the 16th District in the Senate. But her competition will only thicken once Washington Republicans coalesce around their now-nominee Dozier.

“When this [win] is official, we’ll look at our opponent, Danielle, and figure out where her strengths and weaknesses are, and where my strengths and weaknesses are,” Dozier said Tuesday night. “And I’m sure her campaign is going to do the same thing.”

Defending her electoral chances in the reliably red district, Garbe Reser said: “We have been building a strong and diverse coalition behind us that can take us to a victory in November. And part of that is evidenced by over 1,000 donors that we’d had with the campaign so far.”

On the state representative side of the ballot, all four of the candidates running for 16th District positions 1 and 2 will advance to the general election in November.

Aiming to fill the seat vacated by Jenkin, Republican farmer and businessman Mark Klicker received 65% of preliminary votes with 13,108. His Democratic opponent Frances Chvatal, a health care professional and registered nurse, will join Klicker on the November ballot with an initial 7,142 votes, or 35%.

Chvatal said she was feeling optimistic, excited and honored to represent her community in November.

“My husband, children and even grandchildren are very excited for me,” Chvatal said in an email Tuesday night. “Arlo, my grandson and littlest supporter, even cheers for me during forums!”

Attempts to reach Klicker for comment were unsuccessful by press time.

First-term Republican Skyler Rude received 13,594 votes, or 68%, in his effort to defend his Pos. 2 seat from political activist Carly Coburn. The Democratic Progressive candidate received 32% of the preliminary vote with 6,463 votes.

Coburn registered her excitement, and highlighted her plan to crank up phone banking to connect with more voters before November.

She said she hoped her late grandparents, who adopted her in adolescence and who she ended up caring for, would be “at the minimum excited, and hopefully proud of the work I’ve done so far.”

Rude, who’s made bipartisanship central to his political profile, felt affirmed.

“When elected in 2018, I committed to putting good policy ahead of partisanship and I’ve stayed true to that commitment,” he said. “I think Tuesday’s numbers show bipartisan support and I’m proud of that.”

He added: “But I also look forward to continuing the dialogue with Ms. Coburn and our communities as we work through some important policy issues over the next few months.”

So far, Walla Walla County has counted 11,107 ballots and estimates an additional 2,000 ballots on hand. The county’s voter turnout — which will rise in coming days — sits at 31%, compared with 47% in 2018’s primary and 37% in 2016.

Columbia County has counted most of the 1,500 ballots turned in, with a lofty voter turnout of 53%, the second highest in the state.