High-stakes showdown in Washington State

Manka Dhingra, third from left, with her husband Harjit Singh, and their two children.

In the high-profile, high-stakes race in that became perhaps the costliest state primary in history, Democrat Manka Dhingra, an Indian-American, comfortably beat Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund, a Korean-American, 51.5 percent to 42.11 percent in Washington State’s 45th District. The contest’s Independent candidate Parker Harris won 6.84 percent of the vote.

More than $3 million was poured into the Aug. 1 race by both campaigns and Super PACs and both candidates are to square off again in the general election in November. It is estimated that more than $10 million would likely pour in, shattering all records, particularly since the result would determine the balance of power in the legislature.

Dhingra, a senior deputy King County prosecutor, is making her first run for public office. She received 14,605 of the 28,612 votes while Bitcoin Foundation spokeswoman Englund, a former staffer for ex-Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Spokane), received 12,049 votes. Harris got 1,958 votes.

Democrats hold the governorship and the House, but the GOP is in control of the Senate by just one seat. A Dhingra victory in November would help the Democrats recapture control of the State Senate.

When the results were released by the King County Elections Commission, Dhingra’s supporters began rejoicing inside her Redmond campaign headquarters as she delivered her victory speech.

“With the help of over 500 local volunteers, we have knocked on more than 40,000 doors in the last few months and are ready to carry this energy into the general election,” she said. “Together we can ensure experienced, effective, and local leadership represents 45th District families in Olympia.”

State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said, “I’m especially thrilled with Manka Dinghra’s strong performance in the 45th District — we were optimistic, but this is even better than expected.” She said Dinghra’s victory “has put us in a great position for November’s general election, when turnout will be higher and even more favorable for Democrats.”

Conceding defeat, Englund noted that the contest nonetheless made history with “two women candidates of Asian heritage running in the most expensive and important legislative race in Washington state.”

The 45th District seat fell vacant last year following the death of Republican Senator Andy Hill.

Shekar Narasimhan, founder and co-chair of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Victory Fund, said it was time to rally behind Dinghra, who would become the first Sikh woman elected to a state legislature. He said she carried the endorsement of former Washington State Gov. Gary Locke and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington). The fund, which has also endorsed her, is the first and only Asian American Super PAC.

Narasimhan hoped that the Indian-American community is “prepared to stand up and join the AAPI Victory Fund to make this happen.”

Longtime Democratic Party and community activist, Varun Nikore, president of the AAPI Victory Fund, said, “Quite likely, this is the most consequential political race for the Sikh-American community since Dilip Singh Saund was first elected 60 years ago.”

Nikore said the congressman was a “true trailblazer as the first Indian and Asian-American congressman.” Because Dhingra’s victory would also give Democrats the lead in the state Senate, he said, “the entire West Coast from California to Oregon to Washington State will be a wall of blue.  The significance of this race for our community and the nation cannot be understated.”

Nikore said the fact that both Saund and Manka are Sikhs is “symbolic and significant,” especially at a time when incidents of hate violence have been increasing since the presidential election.

“I’m hopeful that having a legislator of this background could serve as a calming influence,” Nikore said.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Dhingra served on the Seattle Police Department’s Muslim, Arab and Sikh Advisory Council to address hate crime issues in the region, particularly when these groups and others were being targeted.

During the run-up to the primary, Dhingra was endorsed by Democratic Governor Jay Inslee, Locke, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. Suzan DelBene and Adam Smith, and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Dhingra has lived in the 45th District for more than 20 years. The district is said to be 15 percent Asian-American with a significant population of Indians, the majority of whom work for Microsoft, based in Redmond.

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