The top candidates for governor are doing their best to downplay their chances in Tuesday’s primary election, in which voters also will narrow the field in competitive congressional, statewide and legislative races.
Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee are safe bets to make it through the gubernatorial primary. But both campaigns say their opponent likely will do better on Tuesday, leaving room for bragging if they come out ahead.
While the significance of the vote in governor’s race is debatable, the election clearly matters for many other candidates.
There are several hard-fought races on the ballot, including open seats for state auditor and secretary of state, as well as in the 1st, 6th, and newly created 10th congressional districts.
Overall, more than 90 people are vying for statewide and congressional offices alone, not to mention an army of candidates running for Legislature, state Supreme Court and various appeals and Superior Court judge positions. County-level races – Pierce has three primary contests for County Council, a crowded field for Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam’s job and five Superior Court positions up for grabs – round out the ballot.
“We have such interesting races. I think we’re going to see better voter turnout than normal,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said.
Reed is predicting that 46 percent of register voters will participate in the all-mail ballot election, although his office noted returns are slow so far. In 2008, the last presidential year primary, nearly 43 percent voters returned their ballots.
This year’s primary is earlier than ever, making it difficult for candidates to get the attention of voters during the height of summer and vacation season.
In 2008, the state moved the September primary, which had been the norm for decades, to the third Tuesday in August. But this year, it was moved to the first Tuesday to ensure that those serving in the military and living overseas have plenty of time to get their November ballots and return them by general election day.
Washington’s primary advances the top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of party, which can sometimes put two candidates from the same party on the ballot. That will be the case in a dozen legislative races this election where there are multiple candidates, all from the same party.
Judicial contests and the superintendent of public instruction are exceptions to the top-two rule. In those nonpartisan races, any candidate who gets a majority of the vote in the primary wins the seat.
This year, the race between Justice Steve Gonzalez and challenger Bruce Danielson will essentially be decided Tuesday. The winner will advance unopposed to the November ballot.
HEATED CONGRESSIONAL RACES
One of the fiercest primary battles is being waged in the 1st Congressional District, where seven people are vying for Inslee’s old seat.
The district — which runs from northern King County to the Canadian border — has five Democrats, one Republican and one independent on the ballot. A recent SurveyUSA poll indicates Republican John Koster is likely to advance to the November election, leaving the Democrats to fight over who will face him.
Former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene, who has poured more than $2.3 million of her own money into her campaign, and progressive activist Darcy Burner have been the leading Democrats in the polls.
In the South Sound, voters are weighing in on two congressional seats that have no incumbent – and each has drawn a half-dozen candidates or more.
Democratic nominee Denny Heck is the financial frontrunner, raising nearly $1.4 million in a six-way race for Washington’s new 10th Congressional District. The contest has drawn a pair of Republicans – Dick Muri and Stan Flemming, who both serve on the Pierce County Council and have military backgrounds. Also running are Democrat and family counselor Jennifer Ferguson of University Place, Progressive Independent and environmentalist Sue Gunn, and independent Steve Hannon of Yelm.
The district leans Democratic and runs from Shelton to Olympia and north to Puyallup and University Place.
Heck, a former legislator-turned-entrepreneur, is widely expected to finish well ahead of the pack by virtue of his better name familiarity. He has already spent $388,000 – far more than all his opponents have raised in combined contributions – and his four mailings have blanketed the district.
Muri and Flemming, who both pledge to repeal federal health reform if elected, have struggled to raise funds, and Flemming’s campaign loans from an obscure Beverly Hills lender have raised questions about whether they are legal. Even so, Muri sent out a mailer to large swaths of the district on Friday, while Flemming has used a mixture of pre-recorded calls to voters and newspaper inserts.
The other candidates have limited means but Gunn and Hannon have been using their opposition to the heavy influence of money in campaigns as top campaign issues.
The open seat in the 6th district also leans Democratic but drew seven candidates after the retirement of iconic Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks. The sprawling district starts in Tacoma and moves west to include the Olympic Peninsula. Democratic state Sen. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor, who has raised nearly $901,000, is his party’s heir apparent.
Republican Bill Driscoll, who is a real-estate executive and Weyerhaeuser descendant, has put in $520,000 of his own cash to run and is the only other candidate with significant resources, having reported raising more than $870,000.
Also running for the GOP are attorney Doug Cloud, technology consultant Jesse Young, real-estate investor Stephan Brodhead who personally loaned $133,000 to his campaign, and software-company owner David Eichner. Eric Arentz is running as an independent.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell is opposed by seven challengers, including Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane.
The most competitive primaries for statewide office include the secretary of state and state auditor races.
In the secretary of state race, three Democrats are running to replace Reed, who is retiring — former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels; Kathleen Drew, a former Issaquah state senator; and Jim Kastama, a conservative state senator from Puyallup who irked his own party by helping Republicans take over budget negotiations earlier this year.
Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman is running as a Republican for the seat. All the candidates have raised more than $100,000 except for Kastama, who has pulled in around $67,000. Three other candidates also are on the ballot, but have raised little to no money.
In the state auditor race, state Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver and state Reps. Troy Kelley of Tacoma and Mark Miloscia of Federal Way are running as Democrats. Kelley has raised around $350,000, most of it his own money. Pridemore has raised around $160,000 and Miloscia around $65,000. Business consultant James Watkins, a Redmond Republican, has raised around $67,000.
TURNOUT AT ISSUE
It’s assumed that McKenna and Inslee, who have each raised more than $7 million, will emerge as the top two contenders for governor out of a field of nine candidates.
However, McKenna’s campaign manager, Randy Pepple, downplayed their chances of pulling in more votes than Inslee.
“My view of it is Inslee is going to have the most votes, probably high 40s. Rob will be second. It could be as low as the high 30s,” Pepple said.
He contends there will be a larger turnout by Democrats and that Shahram Hadian, a pastor from Everett, will likely pull 5 to 8 percent of the vote. Hadian, who has raised around $100,000, is running as the more conservative choice for Republicans.
Inslee’s campaign, on the other hand, has the opposite prediction.
“The reality of the primary is that the electorate is smaller and substantially more conservative than the general electorate,” a memo sent out by the campaign states.
“The bottom line is that while November elections make Washington a blue state, August looks more like a Republican primary,” the memo continued. “The best conceivable GOTV (get out the vote) effort simply won’t increase turnout enough to put Jay in first place in the primary.”Brad Shannon of The News Tribune contributed to this report.