OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A couple months before Brad Toft filed to run for a crucial state Senate seat, he pressed officials to seal records from a past court case.

In a signed letter, Toft seemed to suggest that he wasn't the same person cited in the court files, saying that he shared a name with one of the parties but arguing that the specific identity of the defendant is unclear. He wanted the records blocked from public inspection, declaring that the files might do damage to his reputation.

Toft, however, acknowledged to The Associated Press that he was the defendant in the case, saying he was simply exploring whether an old judgment could be vacated.

I wasn't saying it wasn't me, Toft said. I was just saying it was a resolved issue.

Toft's emerging background comes amid some Republican turmoil as the party tries to retain control of that key Senate seat, which covers eastern King County territory such as Issaquah and Maple Valley. The outcome of the 5th District race could very well determine whether the GOP can maintain a foothold of power in the state Legislature, and a Republican loss would likely dash the party's hopes of gaining a majority in the chamber.

The disorder began in May when GOP Sen. Cheryl Pflug announced her departure just a few days after the candidate-filing period came to a close. That left Toft as the only Republican in the race, and the party has rallied behind him, recently giving him $25,000 to run his campaign.

Pflug, meanwhile, has since sparred with fellow Republicans about her departure and recently endorsed the Democratic candidate, Mark Mullet, to replace her.

In the civil case that Toft looked to seal, he had been sued by College Pro Painters in 1995 for improperly enriching himself by becoming a franchisee but failing to make $10,000 in payments back to the company. About $4,000 in Toft's wages were garnished as part of the lawsuit, according to court records.

Toft said in an AP interview that it was a contract and royalties dispute that was eventually settled.

In March of this year, Toft sent his curious message to the court. He told officials that he only found out about the ruling after doing a background check on his name.

Because I, to the best of my understanding, have never known or come into contact with the plaintiff, but share a name with the defendant, I am requesting that the judgment be vacated and, if possible sealed, Toft wrote.

Toft sent a similar letter in regards to a 1998 case, in which someone sued for a couple thousand dollars in wages. The candidate didn't dispute in an interview that he was the target of the case but said he hadn't been aware of it.

In another court file, Toft was charged with a criminal traffic violation in 1997 for driving while his license was suspended. A warrant was issued for him after failing to appear, according to court records. He acknowledged past mistakes in an interview but said he didn't think voters would care about the issues from years ago.

Toft has also been battling with a former work colleague who has questioned his character.

Kelly Spratt, who previously worked for Toft at a Bellevue mortgage company, said she found him to frequently lie and manipulate. Spratt said she quit in December 2005 after he jokingly swung a bat at her head and accused her of faxing documents to another company.

I was just tired of his manipulative and horrific behavior, Spratt said.

Toft declined to discuss specific details about their time working together but called Spratt a disgruntled employee.

Democrats hold a 27-22 majority in the state Senate, though Republican managed to bring over three conservative Democrats earlier this year to build a 25-24 majority for writing the state budget.

Chris Vance, the former state GOP chairman, said Republicans expect to pick up the seat formerly held by Democratic Sen. Jim Kastama and hope to oust Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen. Both of them are conservative Democrats. There are a couple other seats that are more challenging but that have potential for Republicans, including those of Sens. Brian Hatfield and Rosemary McAuliffe.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are on defense in a few other districts, so Vance said the party really has to defend all of its seats -- including the one Toft is running in -- if it wants to seize the majority.

They really have to run the table to get there, Vance said.

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