Maverick Washington state senator in tight race

Maverick Washington state senator in tight race
FILE - In this photo taken Jan. 14, 2013, Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, sits at his desk on the Senate floor at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — Early primary results Tuesday night showed a tight re-election race for a Democratic state senator who broke from his party to join Republicans in a coalition that has controlled the legislative chamber.

With about 23,000 votes in, Sen. Tim Sheldon was in second place behind Democratic challenger Irene Bowling. And another challenger, Republican Travis Couture, was close behind in third. Only a few hundred votes separated the contenders.

Only the top two vote-getters advance to the November election.

Bowling led Tuesday night with 35 percent of the vote. Sheldon, meanwhile, had 33 percent, and Couture had 32 percent. The candidates are vying to represent the 35th District, which covers Mason and parts of Thurston and Kitsap counties.

The race was one of only a handful of legislative contests that would have direct fallout from Tuesday's primary. Most races either had an uncontested incumbent or just two candidates, meaning both would automatically move on to the general election under the state's top-two primary system.

Overall, in 95 of the 123 legislative races on the ballot, there's no contest. Twenty-two races are unopposed, and for 73 seats, there are only two candidates running.

The primary is mostly serving as a preview of November races, which will be highlighted by a handful of contests that will decide the control of the state Senate.

Currently, the majority Republican coalition holds a 26-23 advantage in the Senate, but 25 of the chamber's 49 seats are in play this year.

Here's a look at other closely watched races:

— In south Seattle's 37th District, immigrant rights advocate Pramila Jayapal was far ahead in a field of six candidates to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Adam Kline. In early Tuesday results, Jayapal led with more than half the votes.

— In Pierce County's 31st District, veteran Sen. Pam Roach appears to be heading to a November fight with fellow Republican Rep. Cathy Dahlquist. Both Roach and Dahlquist have roughly 40 percent of the vote, while a third candidate took 20 percent. That third candidate, Lynda Messner, ran as a Democrat, but her party affiliation has been questioned by allies of Dahlquist and local Democrats.

— In suburban Seattle's 48th District, Rodney Tom, the other Democratic senator who broke from his party to form the coalition with Republicans, opted not to seek re-election. Democratic Rep. Cyrus Habib was leading Republican Michelle Darnell with 63 percent of the vote to replace him Tuesday. Both will advance to face off in November.

— In Seattle's 43 District, Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp faced a challenger from the Socialist Alternative Party, which surprisingly won a Seattle City Council race last year with Kshama Sawant. But Tuesday, Chopp was easily leading socialist candidate Jess Spear with 80 percent of the vote. Both will advance.