Incumbent State Rep. Larry Haler pulled in more than half of the votes in the primary for Position 2 in the 8th Legislative District, according to preliminary results released Tuesday night.
Haler earned 9,587 votes, or 53 percent. Opponents Richard Reuther, a Richland Democrat, received 4,676 votes, or 26 percent, and Kennewick City Councilman Bob Parks received 3,682 votes, or 21 percent.
That means Haler and Reuther are likely to move on to battle it out in the Nov. 6 general election.
"I was expecting to come out on top, but I was pleasantly surprised it was over 50 percent," Haler told the Herald on Tuesday. "I think it says the voters like what I've done for the last eight years. ... I think the challenge this year was great. It makes me a better representative and a better candidate. I thank Councilman Parks for a good campaign."
Haler serves as the ranking Republican on the House Higher Education Committee, and also sits on the budgetary Ways & Means Committee and Technology, Energy and Communications Committee.
He is a former licensed nuclear reactor operator who managed nuclear reactor training. Since being laid off from his job with a Hanford contractor in 2011, he has volunteered as a docent for Hanford's historic B Reactor.
Haler is known in Olympia as an advocate for education -- both K-12 and higher education -- and energy, especially nuclear.
Reuther is a retired teacher and former King County bus driver who has been active in the Tri-City arts scene since moving here in 2006. He previously lived here in the '70s after marrying a Richland native.
He is active with local theater groups and has served on the Richland Arts Commission. He also was a longtime union member.
After hearing he'd be running against Haler in November, Reuther told the Herald that Parks would have been an easier opponent, as he and Parks have more political differences.
During the next few months, he will be emphasizing how his message about focusing on infrastructure growth sets him apart from Haler, he said. Going door-to-door and talking with voters also has helped his campaign so far.
"People found out we have more things in common than not. And that I don't have horns (as a Democrat)," he said.
Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton said about 5,000 more ballots will be counted before the final results are tallied. Ballots will be counted again today, and the results posted at www.bentonelections.com after 4 p.m.
The primary will be certified Aug. 21.