Friday, September 14, 2012

Washington Governor Race

Race of the Day

Washington Governor

September 14, 2012
53 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Republicans were very hopeful this year about finally winning the Governorship of Washington for the first time since 1980, but that strong chance appears to have slipped away to some extent in recent weeks. If the next few weeks do not indicate any change back in the GOP's direction, this race will no longer even be considered a Tossup.

The GOP has gone into past election cycles with optimism surrounding a Gubernatorial election in Washington. The last time the office was open,  in 2004, Republican Dino Rossi looked like a somewhat surprise winner on Election Night. A lengthy process that played out, which saw Democrats take the lead during a recount, in which missing ballots from liberal King County were suddenly found and counted. Republicans cried foul, but Democrat Christine Gregoire prevailed after Rossi declined a further legal challenge. Instead, he vied his time in order to challenge Gregoire's reelection in 2008, and was considered a potential second try winner for years, but in a strong Democrat year, Gregoire defeated him again, this time by six points. Rossi went on to lose a competitive U.S. Senate race in the state in 2010, which despite his competitiveness in a Democrat state, proved that it was best to step aside after three failed runs.

In the meantime, Gregoire ran into significant political problems during her second term, and while she was not term limited, any attempt to win again looked to be iffy at best for her. In June of 2011, she announced she would retire after her current term, and both parties geared up for a very competitive open race.

The Republican that the party had been looking to, even before Gregoire made her announcement was state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who had twice won statewide elections in a difficult state for Republicans. McKenna, who had the image of an appealing social moderate seemed to be a good fit for Washington, despite the fact that another GOP candidate would enter the race and run to his right.

More Democrats considered the race, as there was speculation that with Gregoire leaving, the party's chances of holding onto the Governorship might be improved. Support consolidated however behind Congressman Jay Inslee from the Seattle suburbs. He had once been a Congressman from a different part of the state, before losing his seat in the pro-GOP wave of 1994. Inslee lost a primary for Governor in 1996, but quickly rebounded after that to return to Congress from his present district. In March of 2012, Inslee took the step of resigning from Congress in order to return home to the "other Washington" and focus on his campaign for Governor. By the time, McKenna was running at least a few points ahead of him in the polls.

As the campaign progressed, the poll numbers between the two leading candidates became closer, indicating the race could be a dead heat. Democrats received better than expected news in the state's August blanket primary, in which all candidates were listed on the ballot together. While there was little doubt that Inslee and McKenna would both advance to November, the Democrat topped his GOP opponent 47-43. The rest of the primary vote was scattered, but the totals of another Democrat candidates added to Inslee's tally would have put their combined total a bit over 50 percent. Democrats appeared to run a bit stronger than expected on that day in other races, and Republicans were upset that McKenna did not get another couple percent of the "test vote."

Since that point, the polls remain relatively close, but Inslee now is running ahead of McKenna. In September, a Democrat leaning poll puts their candidate ahead by six points, while an independent poll puts the margin at five. There are still enough undecided voters left to put this race up in the air, but Inslee now appears to be in the driver's seat. If this trend does not stop, McKenna, despite his strengths as a candidate, is going to have a hard time closing any gap that exists, in a Presidential election year in a state like Washington.

Most likely, this race will end pretty closely, but I also would not be shocked if Inslee winds up winning by a decent margin. I do not really know what the local issues at play are, but the total statewide vote has been trending Democrat in recent decades. That is based almost entirely on a dominant showing in Seattle based King County. The vast majority of the rest of the state is likely to once again go Republican in a close election. There is still hope for McKenna in this race, and it's hard to see how any other Republican in the state would be doing any better, but right now, things do not seem to be going exactly to plan.

McKenna campaign link:

2012 Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 4 D, 6 R
Predicted Gubernatorial totals thus far: 16 D, 1 I, 32 R