SEATTLE — Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee entered the 2012 race for governor Monday with a pledge to stoke the fires of innovation to get people working and the state’s economy rolling.
“We will build the most robust, innovative job-creating economy in America,” Inslee said at his early morning kick-off at a Seattle biotech firm. “No one is going to be left behind.”
Inslee focused most of his address on how he’ll try to help private firms create jobs, vowing as governor to “cajole, needle, deal, talk and persuade” firms to set up shop permanently in Washington.
Inslee enters as the Democrats’ leading candidate against Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who launched his campaign earlier this month. Their match-up will be one of the most closely watched battles for governor in 2012.
Other Democrats may yet join the contest. State Auditor Brian Sonntag is mulling a run and the two men have spoken about the race in recent days.
For now, Inslee and McKenna are the marquee names and their similarities and differences are already emerging.
Inslee, as did McKenna, said state government needed to be reformed to operate more “efficiently and effectively,” though he didn’t cite any specifics. Both men want to increase spending on education.
Inslee, unlike McKenna, said he’s open to considering raising tax revenues by ending a tax deduction for out-of-state banks. And he supports legalizing marriage for same-sex couples, which McKenna does not.
Both candidates aren’t ready to endorse legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults.
Washington voters last elected a Republican governor in 1980. Republicans, confident McKenna can break the losing streak, set out Monday to portray Inslee as a tax-and-spend liberal.
“If Congressman Inslee is the best that the state Democratic Party has to offer for Governor, I’m pretty confident that Washington will soon have its first Republican Governor since 1984,” state Republican Party chairman Kirby Wilbur said in a statement.
Inslee, 60, of Bainbridge Island, is in his seventh term representing the 1st Congressional District, which takes in south Snohomish County and parts of King and Kitsap counties.
He served two terms in the Legislature and then in 1992 was elected to Congress in eastern Washington’s 4th District. Two years later, in the midst of a Republican landslide, he lost re-election to current Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
Inslee also ran for governor in 1996, losing in the primary to Gary Locke who went on to serve two terms.
Meanwhile, Inslee’s decision creates an opening in Congress which three Democrats and one Republican were campaigning to fill as of Monday.
Two Democrats from Kirkland — three-term state Rep. Roger Goodman and former state lawmaker Laura Ruderman — and Bothell Democrat Darshan Rauniyar are in.
So, too, is Republican James Watkins, also of Kirkland, who lost to Inslee in 2010.
Also contemplating the race is state Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, who formed an exploratory committee earlier this year and has yet to decide his plans.
Other names tossed about include state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, travel guide Rick Steves of Edmonds and, should he relocate to Washington, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com