McKenna’s regional showing lackluster

One of the best showings in this year’s primary belonged to a guy running for governor named Rob.

Not that Rob, the one you’ve been hearing about for months and seeing in a million dollars’ worth of television commercials the past couple of weeks.

It was the other Rob on the ballot, Rob Hill of Shoreline, a Democrat who spent just $150 and today is alone in third place in the nine-person primary.

He garnered a surprising 4 percent on election night and reached double digits in a handful of counties.

Hill bested Shahram Hadian of Everett, the conservative Republican whose tireless campaign loomed as a benchmark of dissent to the contest’s better known Rob — GOP frontrunner Rob McKenna.

To what does Hill ascribe the success in his first bid for office?

His simple platform: Slap another $10 tax on cigarettes to make them too expensive for young people to buy so they won’t start smoking.

“Its beauty is its simplicity,” he said. “It’s not a hard thing to wrap your head around.”

Another reason might be his name appeared first on the ballot and voters might have got him mixed up with the other party’s Rob.

That’s what McKenna and his brain trust should be counting on after they achieved a predicted, though arguably less-than-sparkling, effort Tuesday night.

Granted, it’s always an iffy proposition to forecast glee or gloom from a low turnout primary like Tuesday’s.

But in the gymnastics of the state’s electoral politics, winning the governor’s race carries a high degree of difficulty for Republicans who’ve not medaled in this event for three decades.

With a flawless performance required to capture gold this fall, an exhibition like the primary affords an opportunity to make an early impression on a wide audience of voters. Yet on the first night of ballot counting, McKenna didn’t stick his landing as solid as might have hoped.

He earned 43 percent and an appreciative round of applause from supporters. But that number is built on the strength of votes cast outside King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. He’s at a nod under 41 in Snohomish, nearly 44 in Pierce and 35 in King.

McKenna knows this November he must collect a majority of votes in Snohomish or Pierce or both counties and improve in King County to avoid a runner-up finish.

Though Democratic candidate Jay Inslee isn’t crowing about his nearly 47 percent tally, he and his fans couldn’t hide their smiles.

At this point, he’s sitting in roughly the same position as Democrat Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2008. Like her, he’s got President Barack Obama leading the ticket. She wound up with 53 percent. Even if the president isn’t igniting the same level of fervor as 2008 he’ll help not hinder Inslee.

Inslee’s also got the backing of Rob Hill whose anti-tobacco platform attracted a large enough following to make a difference.

And to earn him a bronze this election.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623 or

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