Mercer Island is a quiet bedroom community across Lake Washington, via I-90, from Seattle. (And by "bedroom" we mean plush carpet, four-poster bed, lake view, and attached bath. Indeed, this year's average home sale price in Mercer Island is over $1.2 million). About 22,000 people live on the island. It has an independent school district and its own police and fire departments. Residents' concerns are quite suburban--upping the capacity of I-405, reining in home prices--and so they always send Republicans to do their bidding in Olympia.

That's why Mike Wensman, a former lawyer and distributor of Nintendo products in Europe, seems to be a shoo-in for this year's contest to replace retiring state representative Ida Ballasiotes. Wensman's represented the 41st district before--he held one seat from 1996 to 2000. But most of all, Wensman, 52, is a Republican. As far back as anyone can remember, every Mercer Island representative (including the current trio: Ballasiotes, State Representative Fred Jarrett, and State Senator Jim Horn) has been a Republican. There may have been a Democratic rep in the 1940s, one local Dem says, but few Democrats have tossed their hats into Mercer Island races. Until now.

Meet Judy Clibborn, Wensman's Democratic opponent. Clibborn, a 32-year resident of Mercer Island, has been involved in local politics for years, serving two terms on the Mercer Island City Council and one as Mercer Island's mayor. She's currently executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.

"I intend to be the first Democratic representative," Clibborn, 58, says with confidence. "It's a much more moderate, independent district than people give it credit for."

She's right: The 41st district has voted for many democrats, like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Patty Murray, and Gary Locke--even though Locke's gubernatorial opponent in 2000, Republican John Carlson, is from the 41st district. The vote against the conservative Carlson was no surprise, though, since 41st district voters tend to be "quite conservative financially" but socially liberal, according to Democratic District Chair Dick Gidner.

Republican incumbent Ballasiotes isn't weighing in on the race yet--she's friends with both of the candidates.

amy@thestranger.com