Republicans have historically been at a disadvantage in the 19th District, but this year GOP challenger Jim Walsh took a surprise lead in Tuesday’s primary, winning 30 percent of vote.

Incumbent state Rep. J.D. Rossetti clung narrowly to second position with 24.6 percent of the vote, leading Teresa Purcell by a scant 200 votes. Thousands more ballots await to be counted across the 19th District, which covers all of Wahkiakum and Pacific counties and parts of Cowlitz, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties.

“I’m still shaking,” said Walsh, energized over his success. “It’s no sleep until November.”

Walsh, the Grays Harbor Republican Party chairman, said he got more votes than he expected, but said it shows voters are tired of the “business as usual” appointment process to bring state legislators into the district seat. He said he thinks some Democrats voted for him because Democrats have used the appointment process to help control the district.

Rossetti, a Longview Democrat, was appointed in October, continuing a decades-long trend in which 19th District Democrats are initially appointed to the Legislature instead of elected into office. Only two Republicans have served in 19th District House seats since 1935.

“I think they’re willing to give something new a try,” Walsh said of voters. “I think there’s a strong positive message about doing things a little bit differently, being a little more transparent.”

Still, Rossetti and Purcell divided the Democratic vote, and that reality could buoy them regardless of which of them moves on to the Nov. 8 General Election.

Rossetti said he didn’t think the appointment process was a disadvantage to his campaign. Rossetti was appointed in October to replace state Rep. Dean Takko, who was appointed to replace state Sen Brian Hatfield when Hatfield took a job in the governor’s office.

“At this time I’m definitely pleasantly optimistic and excited to see the rest of the results come in,” Rossetti said.

Purcell, a Longview Democrat, said she remains optimistic. She said she was proud of her success considering her disadvantage against a Democratic incumbent.

“We’re super excited because we have lots of votes left to be counted, particularly in Pacific and Cowlitz counties,” Purcell said, both of which she appears to lead.

In Cowlitz County Purcell received 28 percent of the counted votes, compared with Rossetti’s 23 percent. Walsh received 21 percent of the votes in Cowlitz County.

Val Tinney, the other Republican contender, received only 13 percent of the votes districtwide. Tim Sutinen, who registered a Democrat this year, received 9 percent.

Tinney said while she was disappointed, she is glad to see a Republican move forward in the race.

“I’m excited for Jim. I’m happy to see that he’s doing well,” Tinney said. “I fully support him. We all worked really hard, it was a great race. I think it’s great that the voters have so many choices.”

Walsh said his supporters are especially passionate about easing land use regulations under the state Shorelines Management Act. He also said his plan for a flat levy to fund basic education is more “aggressive” than Rossetti’s, though Rossetti said he has been lobbying for that since he was appointed on the Longview School Board in 2013.

Walsh said he may also have to actively seek additional contributions moving forward for the general election. He has only raised $22,200, and he has spent all but $4,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Rossetti has raised $51,600 and spent a little more than $41,000. Purcell has raised $58,500 and spent $46,000.

Contact Daily News reporter Hayat Norimine at 360-577-7828

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