SEATTLE - Buoyed by strong support in King County, Democrat Jay Inslee looked well-positioned to maintain his party’s three-decade winning streak in Washington state gubernatorial races.
Inslee led Republican Rob McKenna by about 51 percent to 49 percent statewide in votes released after 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The math doesn’t look promising for McKenna to turn that around. Trailing by nearly 49,000 votes statewide, McKenna would need to capture 52 percent of the remaining 1.3 million estimated remaining ballots, a Seattle Times analysis found.
If the vote split in King County stays the same, McKenna would need 59 percent of the estimated remaining votes outside King County to pull even. McKenna is currently getting 53.5 percent outside King County.
With a wave of Democratic victories nationally, from President Barack Obama’s re-election to a slate of wins in most contested statewide races, cheering Democrats gathered at the election-night party at the Westin in Seattle were optimistic about Inslee’s chances.
“We’re feeling very confident,” said newly re-elected U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, as results in the governor’s race were projected on a large screen. “Jay Inslee is going to be our next governor.”
The mood was more somber at the Republicans’ party in Bellevue, where McKenna declined to concede and urged the crowd to stay upbeat, with so many votes still to be counted.
While the vote-by-mail election may take days to decide, McKenna said “this year it will be worth the wait.”
When all the votes are counted, McKenna said, it would be clear voters sent the message “that it is time to move our state in a new direction.”
Both campaigns signaled it could be days before the final result is known. Election officials estimated 40 percent of the votes - more than 1 million - would remain to be tallied after Tuesday. More results are due Wednesday.
Washington state voters have not elected a Republican governor since John Spellman beat then-state Sen. Jim McDermott in 1980. The gubernatorial losing streak is the longest in the country for Republicans.
Inslee appeared confident during a midday stop at his campaign headquarters in South Seattle.
“The real thing I think voters are going to be voting on is are we going to build jobs in this state, and I’ve got a plan to do that,” Inslee said.
Secretary of State Sam Reed predicted 81 percent voter turnout, lower than the record-setting 2008 mark of nearly 85 percent.
The governor’s race was considered one of the nation’s most competitive and drew more than $46 million in campaign spending, including $21 million in independent-expenditure campaigns fueled largely by out-of-state groups.
McKenna, the two-term state attorney general from Bellevue, began the race with an advantage in name familiarity and a reputation as a moderate Republican.
But Democrats spent the past two years relentlessly chipping away at that image, running ads and websites to spread the message that McKenna “isn’t who he says he is.”
McKenna gave Democrats ammunition for that argument when he joined the national lawsuit attacking the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
While McKenna said he only intended to challenge the law’s insurance mandate and unilateral expansion of Medicaid, he signed on to legal briefs that sought to invalidate all of Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, including the law’s protections for cancer patients and women’s health care.
But McKenna won praise from supporters for his wonky grasp of state government and his pledge to boost the portion of the state budget that goes to public schools and colleges. If elected, McKenna said, he’d push to hold down growth in other portions of the state budget to gradually free up more money for education.
Inslee, the former eight-term congressman from Bainbridge Island, started out as a lesser-known figure and with questions about whether he was the best candidate Democrats could field.
He faced criticism after quitting Congress in March to concentrate on his campaign, after insisting for months he had no plans to do so.
Inslee also faced questions about his knowledge of state issues and reliance on a few talking points, such as his call to import private-sector “lean management” practices into state government.
But Inslee’s supporters said he smartly focused on job growth as the chief focus for the next governor. His jobs plan outlined dozens of ideas for the state to boost the growth of targeted industries such as biotech, clean energy and aerospace. And polls showed he had an edge in support on social issues and likability.
Both candidates rejected tax increases that Gov. Chris Gregoire and others have argued are necessary to adequately fund public schools.
McKenna, however, said he’d consider a controversial “tax swap” that would boost property taxes in some wealthy areas while reducing them in poorer rural districts. Inslee seized on that plan, criticizing McKenna for favoring higher taxes.
The two diverged on gay marriage, with Inslee announcing his support at the outset of his campaign. McKenna continued to oppose gay marriage but said he supported the current state law giving same-sex domestic partners virtually all the same rights as married couples.
©2012 The Seattle Times
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