Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at an election night party for Democrats on Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Seattle. Inslee defeated Republican challenger Bill Bryant to win re-election. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at an election night party for Democrats on Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Seattle. Inslee defeated Republican challenger Bill Bryant to win re-election. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Gov. Inslee on path to re-election

ELECTION 2016: RESULTSSTORIESDATA DASHBOARD

OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee grabbed a commanding lead on Republican Bill Bryant on Tuesday and began planning for a second term in office.

Inslee led Bryant by a margin of 56.3 percent to 43.7 percent statewide and 54.2 percent to 45.6 percent in Snohomish County, a battleground Republicans considered a must-win to capture victory.

Inslee celebrated the results at an election night party, saying voters chose “to stay on the path to progress. We will keep moving forward. I look forward to getting up every morning as a confident and optimistic governor.”

A spokesman for Bryant said the challenger is not conceding. There are another 1.2 million votes to count and most are not in King County — where Inslee received a whopping 70.5 percent in balloting Tuesday night.

“We are going to hold tight and wait to see when those other votes are counted,” campaign spokesman Jason Roe said.

Results were to be updated overnight in King County and throughout Wednesday statewide. Snohomish County plans to post new vote totals at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

In the campaign, Inslee and Bryant provided voters with two starkly different views of the state.

Inslee, 65, touted the successes of his first term: an economy roaring back from recession, a public education system infused with billions of additional dollars, a reduction of college tuition, more people with health insurance and the largest investment in transportation improvements in state history.

While he acknowledged challenges ahead, such as meeting a state Supreme Court edict to fully fund public schools and a mental health system in need of resources, Inslee never wavered in his upbeat diagnosis for the future.

“We have made solid progress in our first four years,” he said. “I am confident and optimistic for the next four years. I’m not done with this job. I know the challenges can be overcome.”

Bryant, 56, is attempting to become the first Republican to be elected governor in Washington since 1980. He entered the race in 2015, largely unknown to voters. Leaders of his party, and the national Republican Governors Association, tried to corral better known Republicans to run but one-by-one they declined, clearing the field for Bryant.

Bryant sought to make the race a referendum on Inslee’s record since taking office in January 2013. In his campaign he sketched a darker picture of Inslee’s tenure.

He cited the mistaken early release of prisoners by the state Department of Corrections that went unfixed for three years after its discovery. He talked of how Western State Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric facility, nearly lost its federal funding due to concerns about security and safety of patients and workers.

And Bryant criticized Inslee for not foreseeing problems that have beset I-405 express toll lanes and for not adequately serving the surging population of homeless people in the Puget Sound region.

But Bryant struggled to raise money to get his message out and it hurt especially in the final weeks of the campaign when Inslee commercials filled the air waves.

The governor raised $9.9 million compared to Bryant’s tally of $3.8 million, according to online reports of the state Public Disclosure Commission.

In addition, a pro-Inslee super PAC funded by statewide labor unions and the Democratic Governors Association spent $726,800 in ads attacking Bryant. And the Republican challenger had no outside groups coming to his aid.

In recent days, as statewide polls showed Inslee hovering around 50 percent, Inslee campaigned alongside Democratic candidates in hopes of getting more allies in the Legislature.

Inslee has struggled to get his policies passed by a part-time Legislature in which Democrats control the House and Republicans rule the Senate.

For example, he could not get lawmakers to pass his cap-and-trade plan to reduce carbon emissions, which are seen as a contributing cause of global warming.

In 2013 and 2015, differences between House and Senate leaders and the governor on budgets nearly led to a shutdown of state government.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 jcornfield@heraldnet.com Twitter: @dospueblos.

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