WENATCHEE — In what’s stacking up to be a major upset in one of the most hotly contested races in the region, challenger Brad Hawkins is handily beating incumbent Mike Armstrong to represent the state’s 12th Legislative District in Olympia.
Hawkins is leading Armstrong, 18,473 votes to 16,904, after the first ballot count Tuesday night. That’s a lead of 52.2 percent of ballots counted to 47.8 percent for Armstrong.
The 12th District comprises all of Chelan and Douglas counties and part of Okanogan and Grant counties. Hawkins came out on top in all except Okanogan County, which went to Armstrong by less than a percentage point. The next vote tally districtwide will be available late Friday.
“The trend’s looking positive, but there are a lot of ballots left to count,” said an elated Hawkins by phone Tuesday evening. “We’ve worked really hard. It’s not me, it’s the supporters who’ve spent so much of their time and resources helping us with the campaign.”
He added, “I was straightforward with voters. I told them what I thought was right, whether they wanted to hear it or not, and I think they responded to that.”
Armstrong, 55, of Wenatchee bested the 36-year-old Hawkins of East Wenatchee by a 16-point margin in the August primary.
Since then, Hawkins has hammered his opponent over campaign spending — including $7,000 in surplus campaign money spent on business suits that Armstrong said he bought to wear during official legislative functions — and the large amount of campaign contributions that come to Armstrong from outside the region.
“The primary and the general are like two different elections,” Hawkins said. “The primary has a really low turnout and low media coverage. Since the primary, the exact opposite has happened. When you’re building a grassroots campaign it takes a while to build that momentum, but it’s there.”
Armstrong has blasted Hawkins for a campaign too focused on criticism and questions about Armstrong’s own performance as a legislator rather than informing the public about where Hawkins, himself, stands on the issues.
“I’m a little disappointed, obviously,” said Armstrong, who’s represented the 12th District for the last 11 years. “It’s rough for someone to run a campaign against you who never spends his time talking about an issue.”
He added, “Maybe his campaign’s worked. A negative campaign against someone can work.”
Hawkins said the issue over the Armstrong’s suit purchases — a finding in an Associated Press investigation of candidate campaign spending — may have given him a boost, but wasn’t the sole reason for his early lead.
“That shook people up and got voters focused on our race a little more,” he said. “Then they looked at my qualifications and compared us. They took a look at who’s the best person to represent our district for our future.”
Armstrong is external affairs director at the Port of Chelan County. Hawkins is a policy analyst at the Douglas County PUD. He is the son of East Wenatchee businessman and former Chelan County Commissioner Buell Hawkins.
Christine Pratt: 665-1173