McKenna, a Republican, has been methodically moving up the political ranks -- from student body president at the University of Washington, to county councilman, to attorney general and now to Washington's race for governor. Inslee, a former congressman, first ran for the state's top office back in 1996 and has been laying the groundwork in recent years to be Gov. Chris Gregoire's successor.
The two candidates now headline a packed ballot for the state's Aug. 7 primary, which will weed out candidates in several key statewide races -- from the U.S. Senate to attorney general to auditor to the Supreme Court. Secretary of State Sam Reed said he expects the governor's race and other major open seats to help drive more people to cast primary ballots than usual.
"It all adds up to what should be a good turnout," said Reed, who has announced his retirement, triggering a flood of candidates looking to succeed him. He estimates that total turnout will be around 46 percent.
The governor's race alone features seven candidates. McKenna and Inslee are widely viewed as favorites, since both have already raised over $7 million dollars each for a November election that is expected to be one of the most competitive governor's races in the nation -- a prospect that recent polling seems to support.
GOP candidate Shahram Hadian, an Everett pastor, has built the next-largest campaign structure by appealing to Republicans who are more conservative than McKenna. He has raised about $100,000.
The other candidates are Shoreline businessman Rob Hill, Sultan computer programmer L. Dale Sorgen, holistic health proponent Christian Joubert, Black Diamond airplane parts painter Max Sampson, Marysville airplane inspector James White and retired Bucoda resident Javier O. Lopez.
Washington voters haven't chosen a Republican for governor in three decades, but both McKenna and Inslee have staked out a middle ground in the campaign, at times going against the talking points of their own party.
Inslee, for example, has opposed new taxes despite calls from within his own party to seek new revenues to pay for education. McKenna, meanwhile, was first to say the state will need to pursue a new revenue package to pay for transportation projects -- an idea mostly championed by Gregoire, a Democrat.
They've split on some major issues: McKenna supports charter schools while Inslee does not. Inslee supports gay marriage while McKenna opposes it.
And they've touted similar messages on other issues: Both like the idea of small business tax credits to spur the economy. Both talk about limiting health care costs to save money. Both talk about restoring funding to higher education.
McKenna, 49, was born in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. His father was an Army officer, and McKenna's family moved to various places around the globe -- Germany, Bangkok, San Francisco and Kansas -- before settling in Bellevue.
McKenna went to the University of Washington, where he was student body president and met his wife, then to law school at the University of Chicago. He began his professional life as a private attorney in the late 1980s before getting elected to the King County Council in 1996.
After getting elected as Washington's attorney general in 2004, McKenna has targeted meth use, gangs, sex offenders, identity theft and Internet predators. More recently, as president of the National Association of Attorneys General, he led a national effort to combat human trafficking. He said he had success passing legislation on his major issues because he built bipartisan relationships in the Legislature.
"That's how I'll operate as governor as well," McKenna said.
Inslee, 61, grew up south of Seattle and married his high school sweetheart after graduating from Ingraham High School. He has a varied background in both sides of the state, from working with jackhammers and cement trucks to time as a small-town prosecutor.
"I have a deep understanding of our state and an abiding faith of our ability to move forward," Inslee said.
The Inslees raised their children in the Yakima Valley before he was elected to the state House in 1985. He then got elected to Congress in 1992 before losing re-election in the Republican sweep of 1994.
Inslee ran for governor in 1996 but didn't make it out of the primary. He eventually won a seat back in Congress in 1998 after he and his family moved back to the west side of the state.
In Congress, Inslee became a leader on clean energy issues. He wrote a book about how to build a new economy anchored in renewable sources of energy -- something now incorporated in his economic strategy for Washington.
One of the other big races on the ballot for the primary will be the campaign to replace Inslee. The redistricting process has made the 1st District into the state's most competitive seat, and Democrats have been spending big on ads as they try to emerge from the primary as an alternative to Republican candidate John Koster, who is expected to make it to the November ballot.
Two of the state's other congressional districts -- the 10th and the 6th -- also don't have incumbents running in them.
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