SEATTLE -- Three key races that will help decide the makeup of the Washington state Senate remained too close to call Tuesday night after initial returns were counted.

Currently, Democrats hold a 27- to 22-seat edge in the Senate. The two parties and their allies have poured millions of dollars into just a few districts, mostly west of the Cascade Mountains.

Democrats were looking to gain seats in the 5th and 17th districts, where they led Tuesday night.

In King County, Democratic candidate Mark Mullet was leading Republican Brad Toft in the 5th District. The seat was vacated by Republican Cheryl Pflug, who had a public fallout with her party after she accepted a state job offered by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Pflug withdrew her name from the race just a few days after the candidate filing period came to a close. That did not allow the GOP to recruit a candidate. Toft had filed to run in the district, but he wasn't the party's initial choice.

Toft was trailing Mullet 46 percent to 54 percent Tuesday night.

In the Vancouver area, Democratic Rep. Tim Probst held a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Sen. Don Benton with just 222 votes separating the two men in the 17th district.

Meanwhile, longtime Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen was trailing Republican state Rep. Barbara Bailey in the 10th District, which covers all of Camano Island and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties. Bailey led with 53 percent of the vote to Haugen's 47 percent.

During this election, Republicans saw an opportunity to seize the Senate for the first time in a decade, but that seemed unlikely Tuesday night. Democrats wanted to win enough seats to shed the influence of conservatives in their ranks, which has made their control of the upper chamber shaky at best.

Republicans gained one seat in the 25th District, which was formerly held by conservative Democrat Jim Kastama, who left to run for secretary of state. In that race, Rep. Bruce Dammeier was leading Democrat Eric Herde with 62 percent of the vote.

Republicans mounted a challenge against Sent. Rosemary McAuliffe in the 1st District, but the veteran lawmaker seemed to be holding off Dawn McCravey with 56 percent of the vote.

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