Democrat Jay Inslee took an early lead over Republican Rob McKenna in the Washington governor's race Tuesday. But it might be days before the nationally-watched contest is completely decided.
Vote-rich King County still has hundreds of thousands of votes to count, and Inslee was leading by a more than 140,000-vote margin there.
"Theyre still counting the ballots, Inslee told supporters at the Westin hotel in downtown Seattle, but I believe that we have elected a forward-looking governor and I fully intend to be that governor."
McKenna was running stronger in many of the states 38 other counties, especially in rural areas and Eastern Washington as he worked to break a 28-year Democratic hold on the governors office. Washington is one of a handful of states where national Republicans hoped to expand their majority of governorships from 29.
Tonight were going to ask you to be patient for a few days longer, McKenna told a few hundred supporters at the Bellevue Hyatt Regency. I know ... but this year it will be worth the wait.
Democrats were jubilant at the Westin as President Barack Obama turned back Republican standard bearer Mitt Romney for a second term, and they clearly were ready for Inslee to finish his brief speech and let them hear Obamas simultaneous televised victory speech.
Inslee obliged after telling the crowd, We can fulfill our destiny to lead the 21st-century economy right here in the state of Washington.
Inslee had aligned his campaign with larger Democratic themes allowing him to take advantage of Obamas popularity here including support for the presidents health-reform law, same-sex marriage, clean energy investments, abortion rights, and Inslees own votes in Congress against the invasion of Iraq and loosening regulations for Wall Street.
Inslee led in nine counties. McKenna said he was confident that once all ballots were counted it will be clear it is time to move our state in a new direction.
Outgoing Secretary of State Sam Reed that if the vote counts were to mirror recent polls, the eventual winner might not be known until Friday or later.
Closing of the polls brings an end to a bitterly fought campaign that saw Inslee raising $11.88 million, McKenna more than $13.5 million and independent groups funded mostly by out-of-state money at least $20 million more.
McKenna, running against the Democratic tide, described himself a pragmatist as he built his campaign around education reform and getting adequate money into K-12 schools. He picked up support from school reform group Stand for Children and backed Initiative 1240 that would let the state open 40 charter schools.
McKenna also was embraced by business groups and touted an environmental record that even some advocacy groups conceded was not bad.
But he frequently found himself countering claims in ads paid for by labor-backed groups that suggested he was not who he says he is and as far to the right as his national counterparts on social and health-care issues.
In defense, McKenna said he would support Washingtons laws on abortion and that he had voted for domestic partnerships for gay couples in 2009, though he opposes same-sex marriage. He said his participation in the lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act was meant to strike down only its mandates for individuals to buy health insurance and for Medicaid expansion, not the whole law. He is cool to expanding Medicaid under the health reform.
Meantime, the Republican Governors Association hammered Inslee over his congressional vote for Obamacare, linking him to tax hikes it said health reform is putting on small businesses. The RGA also went after Inslee, a supporter of the clean-energy industry, for holding stock in a solar company while promoting the industry.
Both candidates insisted they would not raise taxes a claim scoffed at by outgoing, two-term Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire. Gregoire strongly backed Inslee but believes the state needs a new tax source to meet a state Supreme Court order for better funding of K-12 schools.
McKenna came off in debates as the one with the more detailed knowledge of many state issues and saw 12 of 13 daily newspapers in the state endorse him. But he also was fighting against Obamas coattails.
Haley Huntington contributed to this report.
Results map as of 10 p.m. Tuesday. Click on county to see detail.