Incumbent Sharon Brown led the vote count Tuesday for the 8th Legislative District in the State Senate and appears to be a heavy favorite to win in November.
Brown, who was appointed senator earlier this year, lead the three-person race with 9,777 votes, or 59 percent. Richland City Councilman Phillip Lemley was in second place with 3,656 votes, or 22 percent, while West Richland Councilman Tony Benegas was third with 3,202 votes, or 19 percent.
If Lemley maintains his 454-vote lead over Benegas, he will face Brown again in the Nov. 5 general election. An estimated 5,000 votes still had to be counted, though not all of those are in the senate district, according to the Benton County Auditor’s Office.
While she said “anything can happen,” Brown is confident of her ability to win election to the final year of former Sen. Jerome Delvin’s four-year term.
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“I’m truly honored that the voters have put their trust in me, and I will continue to fight hard to represent the district,” she told the Herald. “I believe I made an effective message in Olympia and had an effective message with the voters.”
Lemley said he “feels great” about the results. He expects heavier turnout in November, and he will continue to get out and meet voters.
“It will take a Herculean effort to overcome that lead,” Lemley said. “When you add my votes and (Benegas’) votes, we overcome her, or it is going to be close.”
Benegas said Tuesday evening that he can still catch Lemley.
“We’re just going to kind of wait and see what happens,” he said. “We’ve been talking to a lot of folks. A lot of people are waiting until the last minute to vote.”
The candidates, all Republicans, represented each of the three cities in the 8th Legislative District. Each made job creation a focus of the campaign, but in different ways.
Brown, who works for Hanford subcontractor Longenecker & Associates, touts her ability to help pass a group of bills intended to streamline government regulations on business during her first session in Olympia.
Benegas, owner of a nuclear engineering company that works at the Hanford site, said there is more to being in the Senate than passing bills. He wants to use his business experience to help the state add jobs.
Lemley, meanwhile, wants to expand existing businesses and farms in the area, rather than offer incentives to bring new companies to town. He is retired from Hanford contractor Bechtel National, where he was a communications engineer on the vitrification plant project.
Lemley said he is not only “pro-labor,” which was shown by his support from unions, but “pro-business.”
Brown, a former Kennewick city councilwoman, was sworn in to her office in February. Benton County Commissioners appointed her to replace Delvin, R-Richland, in the senate. Delvin was elected to the county commission in November.
The job pays $42,106 annually.
Reports filed with the Public Disclosure Commission showed Brown with a large fundraising advantage. The incumbent raised $56,778 and spent $25,793 as of Tuesday evening. Lemley raised $16,170 and spent $10,553. Benegas raised $13,314 and spent $10,032.
The results released Tuesday include those turned in by 3 p.m. Officials will start counting the rest Wednesday.
Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom