UPDATE — Inslee acts like he's the winner; Democrat holds thin lead over McKenna

The Associated Press

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OLYMPIA — Democrat Jay Inslee expressed confidence Wednesday that his early lead in Washington's race for governor would hold as he began setting up a transition team that would help him prepare to take office in January.

Inslee stopped short of declaring victory over Republican Rob Mc-Kenna, acknowledging that the election's final result may not be known until the end of this week.

Inslee held a promising advantage Wednesday after nearly 2 million votes were counted, carrying 51 percent of ballots.

“I'm just getting ready to lead the state of Washington,” he said.

Election officials estimate that hundreds of thousands of votes are left to count.

McKenna spokesman Charles McCray said the Republican's campaign is waiting to see the new numbers and was working to notify voters whose ballots were challenged due to mismatched signatures or other issues.

McKenna aides still expected he would ultimately win.

Washington is used to close governor's races.

Most notably, Gov. Chris Gregoire won the 2004 contest against Republican Dino Rossi by a mere 133 votes after two recounts and a court challenge.

Inslee's lead headlined broad victories for Democrats in Washington. The party easily kept control of a contested U.S. Senate seat while adding a new seat in the U.S. House.

At the state level, they trailed in only one statewide race — secretary of state — but even that contest was too close to call.

Republicans had hoped that McKenna would provide fresh strength to a party that had gone 30 years without winning the governor's seat.

Both sides poured millions of dollars into the race and polls had shown the candidates running about even.

McKenna built a moderate campaign platform around ways to increase funding for education, and he won the endorsement of 11 out of 12 daily newspapers in the state along with some Democrats such as popular State Auditor Brian Sonntag.

McKenna has worked the past eight years as the state's attorney general.

Former congressman

Inslee, a former congressman, first ran for governor in 1996 but lost to eventual Gov. Gary Locke.

He focused his message on ways to grow the economy, vowing to focus state investments in certain industries, such as clean energy and life sciences.

Both candidates have vowed not to raise taxes.

Voters again made clear this year that they opposed taxes, re-approving a measure that requires lawmakers to have a two-thirds majority in order to raise taxes.

And in two advisory votes, voters disapproved of efforts that increased taxes, including a proposal passed by the Legislature that repealed a tax exemption for out-of-state banks.

Here is our earlier story:

OLYMPIA — Washington state's race for governor hung on late ballots Wednesday, with election officials estimating hundreds of thousands of votes were left to count.

Democrat Jay Inslee held a tight but promising lead after nearly 2 million votes were counted Tuesday, carrying 51 percent of ballots.

Republican Rob McKenna was struggling in King County, which also held many of the votes still left to count.

Still, McKenna remained optimistic he could become the first GOP governor in about three decades, telling supporters they would have to wait a few more days as mail ballots continued to arrive at county offices.

“This year, it will be worth the wait,” McKenna said Tuesday night.

Although some races remain undecided, Democrats in Washington won big in key federal contests and were in position to potentially claim every statewide executive office — something they haven't done since the 1960s.

Republicans held a very slight lead in only one statewide race — secretary of state — and that's an office they've held continuously since 1965.

Democrat Bob Ferguson led Republican Reagan Dunn in the hard-fought attorney general's race.

Democrats also found success in some of the top ballot measures.

They had endorsed a proposal to legalize marijuana, which passed, and aided a measure to approve same-sex marriage, which held a lead.

Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democrats, said he was very excited about the results.

He doubted that McKenna could flip the numbers in the governor's race, given the size of Inslee's lead and how poorly the Republican was performing in King County.

“It's a good day for Democrats across the country,” Pelz said. “And if we can win the governor's seat, it would be a pretty good sweep for us here.”

Perhaps the best consolation to conservatives was the passage of an initiative that requires lawmakers to have a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

That rule provides the GOP with the power to block tax-raising budgets in Olympia, although the state Supreme Court is currently considering whether it is constitutional.

Another measure to develop charter schools in the state was in a tossup Tuesday night.

McKenna was supposed to be the biggest Republican triumph, as he had been steadily building his political reputation for years and developing a deep grasp of the issues facing state government.

The race was viewed as one of the country's most competitive gubernatorial contests, with the campaigns and outside political groups raising and spending some $40 million in the race.

As of Tuesday night, hundreds of thousands of ballots remained uncounted while others had yet to arrive at election offices around the state.

Republicans last won a governor's race in the state in 1980, when John Spellman was elected. Voters ousted Spellman at the end of his first term, around the time McKenna was student body president at the University of Washington.

The GOP has come close in some elections, most notably the 2004 race in which Dino Rossi lost to current Gov. Christine Gregoire by 133 votes.

Republicans had been cultivating McKenna as a potential gubernatorial candidate, as he worked his way from the King County Council to attorney general. In that seat, he won 59 percent of the vote in 2008.

Inslee, meanwhile, took his first run at the governor's seat in 1996 but lost in a primary to eventual Gov. Gary Locke. He also bounced back from a 1994 defeat when he was serving as a congressman on the eastern side of the state and eventually won a new seat in Congress after his family moved west to Bainbridge Island.

Inslee held that congressional seat for a decade, becoming a leader in clean energy issues.

Clean energy also became a focus of Inslee's campaign for governor this year. He vowed to focus investments on that industry and others — such as life sciences and agriculture — to stimulate job growth.

To deal with Washington's unbalanced budget, Inslee said the state would bring in extra money from economic growth. He also vowed to seek savings in the health care industry and make government more efficient by following “lean management” practices.

McKenna, meanwhile, repeatedly noted that Olympia had been guided by Democrats for years and that the percentage of money going to education has shrunk under their watch.

He vowed to cap non-education spending growth at 6 percent per biennium while also seeking improvements in health care costs and government efficiency.

Gregoire has been skeptical about whether McKenna and Inslee's budget ideas are viable, and she believes new tax revenue is necessary.

Last modified: November 07. 2012 6:16PM
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