First test: What primary win might mean for McKenna, Inslee

Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee disagree on a lot in their contest for governor, including who will win the upcoming primary.

McKenna says it will be Inslee.

Inslee says it will be McKenna.

But, in one of their rare moments of consensus, they both think whatever happens in the Aug. 7 election won’t reveal much about which of them will be Washington’s next chief executive.

“I really don’t think the voters will learn anything from the primary results about the race in November,” McKenna said. “Primary results are not predictive of the general election.”

His reasoning — and Inslee’s, too — is that the nature and number of voters this fall will be much different and much larger than the electorate participating next month.

Historically, a majority of those casting ballots in the primary are the loyalists of the Republican and Democratic parties. They said party moderates, independent-minded voters and first-time ballot markers will show up in droves in November and are the ones they must work to win over.

The sheer number of voters will increase, and that makes a difference, too.

Secretary of State Sam Reed predicts 46 percent of the state’s registered voters will participate. Snohomish County election officials estimated 44 percent of county voters will take part.

Come November, with a ballot containing controversial initiatives and topped by the battle for president, turnout could reach 85 percent.

“These events in mid-August are not predictive,” Inslee said. “I’m very confident we’ll be on the ballot (in November). That is the only real meaning of the August event.”

McKenna argued for Inslee winding up with the most votes in the primary because self-identified Democratic voters outnumber Republicans. And Democrats are more motivated to vote because of competitive races such as the 1st Congressional District, where five Democrats are competing against a Republican and an independent.

Inslee initially avoided a prediction. With some prodding, he said McKenna may finish ahead of him because he’s better known by virtue of having run in two statewide elections.

“I’ve been in the position before where I’ve been behind in a primary and then won in the general,” he said.

It happened in 1992, when he beat Republican Doc Hastings in the 4th Congressional District and in 1998, when he defeated Rick White in the 1st Congressional District. In 1994, in a rematch with Hastings, Inslee trailed in the primary and wound up losing.

Inslee and McKenna aren’t the only ones battling to succeed Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Seven other candidates are in the race, but only one of them, Shahram Hadian of Everett, is conducting a campaign of any visibility.

Hadian’s raised $82,000 and is campaigning vigorously among conservative Republicans. He’s criticized McKenna for not adhering to the platform of the Republican Party and the principles of conservatism.

The other hopefuls are Rob Hill of Shoreline, James White of Marysville, Christian Joubert of Edmonds, Larry Dale Sorgen of Sultan, Max Sampson of Black Diamond and Javier Lopez of Bucoda.

Inslee, of Bainbridge Island, and McKenna, of Bellevue, became their parties’ anointed torchbearers soon after Gregoire announced in June 2011 she would not seek a third term.

What’s occurred in the campaign since is pretty much what’s been expected.

McKenna, 49, in his second term as state attorney general, has led in polling throughout with a name known statewide.

Inslee, 61, was in his seventh term as 1st Congressional District representative when he resigned in March to focus on the race. As he’s gotten around the state and shored up support within his party, he’s improved in the polling.

Now the two appear to be in a dead heat. A Survey USA poll released Thursday showed McKenna leading Inslee by a single point, 42 percent to 41 percent.

Moneywise, they’re both nearing the $7 million mark in fundraising. Inslee has spent $4 million to McKenna’s $3.2 million. The big difference is Inslee paid for a television commercial now airing on stations statewide and McKenna did not.

Everything is falling into place for what may be one of the closest gubernatorial contests in the country in November.

That’s why McKenna and Inslee each view this primary as an important dry run.

They can put their campaign to the test of identifying supportive voters and getting them to cast ballots. Volunteers will be deployed to phone banks and ballot tracking chores.

“We are completely focused on making sure we execute all our jobs so the next time we do it, it will be an effort to put Rob in the governor’s mansion,” said Charles McCray, communications director for McKenna’s campaign.

Though the two candidates publicly assign no significance to their order of finish, many others will be delving into the numbers.

Travis Ridout, an associate professor of political science at Washington State University, said in an email the results will provide a “good data point on where the race for governor stands right now.”

“I would think that McKenna would come out of the primary with a few percentage points more of the vote than Inslee,” he wrote. “Part of that stems from McKenna having higher name recognition statewide. And, indeed, that’s what polling shows.”

This election may indicate where Inslee and McKenna are performing best around the state and hint at how well organized their campaigns are at this stage, he said.

“Ultimately, the primary results should be predictive of November, but not determinative, and I expect we’ll have a close race come November,” he said.

For party leaders, allies of the candidates and members of the political class, the primary will be as much about expectation and perception as it is votes.

On Election Night and the days after, they will be weaving the conclusion into the story line of the campaign, portraying the outcome as an indicator of strength of the one they back and weakness of the one they oppose.

“For candidates in the primary, it is all about the numbers,” said Ron Dotzauer of Snohomish, a veteran consultant who managed Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s campaign in 2000. “Every single candidate and every single campaign has a number written down in their head that they want to accomplish.”

Exceeding it can raise expectations of success and may open the door to a new batch of donors, he said. Coming in too low can stir doubts about a campaign’s ability to secure a fall victory, he said.

Nathan Gorton, government affairs director for the Washington Realtors, said McKenna — who the group endorsed — appears to be in a win-win situation.

He contended self-identified Democratic voters outnumber Republicans so an Inslee victory won’t be viewed as a surprise. If McKenna is the top vote-getter, he said it will strengthen a brewing perception that he can be the state’s first Republican governor in three decades.

“McKenna winning the primary moves him closer to inevitability, but it doesn’t make his win in November inevitable,” Gorton said.

Blair Butterworth, a Democratic consultant who managed Gary Locke’s campaign for governor, said the lower the turnout, the less will be learned because it means votes will be cast by mostly the parties’ core supporters.

He thinks Republicans will vote in greater numbers than Democrats and thus McKenna will emerge as the top vote-getter.

Regardless, the key for both candidates is to not be “embarrassed,” he said.

“You want to be within reasonable expectations so your donors and supporters are not let down,” he said. “This is a training exercise. People don’t want to be embarrassed.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;

Governor’s race

Washington’s governor serves a four-year term with an annual salary of $166,891.

Rob McKenna

Residence: Bellevue

Age: 49

Party: Republican

Experience: He is in his second term as the state’s attorney general. Before that he served three terms on the Metropolitan King County Council.


Jay Inslee

Residence: Bainbridge Island

Age: 61

Party: Democrat

Experience: He was in his eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives when he resigned in March. Before that he served two terms in the state Legislature.


Shahram Hadian

Residence: Everett

Age: 41

Party: Republican

Experience: A pastor and founder of Truth in Love (TIL) Project, he ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2010.


There are six other candidates, including some who’ve run for governor before. None of them report raising or spending money on this race in 2012.

They are: Rob Hill, Democrat, Shoreline; James White, independent, Marysville; Christian Joubert, no party preference, Edmonds; L. Dale Sorgen, independent, Sultan; Max Sampson, Republican, Black Diamond; and Javier Lopez, Republican, Bucoda.

The Online Voters’ Guide has information on all candidates. You can find it on the Secretary of State web site at

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