OLYMPIA— Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee marched to an easy win over Republican Loren Culp Tuesday to capture a rare third term as the state’s chief executive.
On the strength of support throughout the Puget Sound, Inslee led Culp, chief of police of the town of Republic, by a margin of 59.8% to 40.1% in the first night of ballot counting. In Snohomish County, Inslee received 58.4% to Culp’s 41.2%.
Meanwhile, Congressman Denny Heck was ahead of state Sen. Marko Liias of Lynnwood in an all-Democrat contest to succeed retiring Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib.
And, in the tightest race for a statewide office, Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman was clinging to a small lead on Democratic state Rep. Gael Tarleton. A Democrat has not held the job since the 1960s.
Nearly 3.3 million votes were tallied Tuesday. The next round of ballot counting in each county will be released throughout the day Wednesday.
With the victory, Inslee, 69, becomes only the second governor to serve three consecutive terms. Republican Dan Evans served from 1965-77.
Speaking outside the governor’s mansion, Inslee thanked voters and said the results are an affirmation of the policies enacted by he and Democratic lawmakers and a desire to “continue on the path to progress.”
As Inslee eyes another four years at the state’s helm, the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy and public life will continue to be a dominant challenge for his administration.
He said voters delivered a “mandate” Tuesday to defeat the coronavirus and “we intend to act on that mandate.”
“Difficult days are ahead but we know this, better days are certainly in our future and we intend to get there as fast as we humanly can,” he said.
Inslee’s political career started with two terms in the state House in the late 1980s, followed by two tours and 16 years in Congress and the past eight years as Washington’s governor.
In March, Inslee entered the race for president. He ended the bid a couple months later and quickly launched his latest campaign for governor.
Culp, 59, was making his first run for political office. He made the governor’s handling of the state response to the COVID-19 pandemic a central focus of his campaign. He repeatedly criticized Inslee’s decisions and urged defiance of some restrictions imposed to combat the spread of coronavirus.
“This is going to be the day we make history,” Culp said in a recorded message shared during a virtual state Republican Party rally early Tuesday. “We’ve got this.”
Tuesday night, Culp held an election night party in Tenino.
Inslee defended the way he steered the state through the uncharted waters of the pandemic. He acknowledged that limits on social gatherings and businesses, and a statewide mask mandate, were tough measures but were necessary to try to keep infection rates in check.
Looking to 2021, Inslee is expected to press lawmakers on legislation to combat climate change such as a low carbon fuel standard, a policy victory that has eluded him thus far. Also next year he’s likely to push for a capital gains tax and seek to enact a sweeping set of policing reforms.
For much of the campaign, he offered little in the way of new ideas, in part because he and the Democratic majorities in the Legislature have done some heavy lifting in recent years. Laws have been passed to expand college aid, provide paid family leave and a long-term care benefit, and transition to 100% clean electricity.
“We are not done yet,” he said Tuesday.
Heck, who has served in Congress the past decade, leads Liias, a veteran state lawmaker, 47.3% to 33.8% for the job that is first in succession to governor.
That aspect of the job may have gained in importance for some voters amid speculation that if Democrat Joe Biden is elected president, Inslee could bolt for the right job offer to join his administration.
Early in the year, Heck announced he would not seek reelection to Congress and intended to retire. Then Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib declared he would not seek another term.
Heck put retirement on hold and jumped in. Liias, who is the majority floor leader in the state Senate, campaigned as the stronger voice for progressives.
Joshua Freed, a Republican, did conduct a write-in campaign for the office. On Tuesday, 18.9% cast a ballot for a write-in candidate.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal was cruising to re-election Tuesday in what had become a bruising battle with challenger, Maia Espinoza.
Reykdal, a former teacher and Democratic state lawmaker, has a lead on Espinoza, 56.8% to 42.8%.
Espinoza, 31, who was making her first run for statewide office, focused on Reykdal’s support of a new law mandating that public schools adopt sexual health education curricula for all grade levels. She also pushed to provide direct aid to parents whose children are learning remotely.
Reykdal will now get another four-year term guiding the state’s public school system which includes 295 school districts and roughly 1.2 million students from preschool to high school.
It is a nonpartisan job but in the final days of the campaign Reykdal turned to his partisan allies, including Inslee for support and help in tying Espinoza, a Republican, to the policies of President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Secretary of State
Wyman, who is seeking a third term as the overseer of the state’s election system, is one of only two Republicans holding statewide office in the state. She led Tarleton, a four-term state representative from Seattle, 51.6% to 48.3%.
Both back the state’s vote-by-mail system, and Wyman has appeared on national news networks extolling the safety and security of the process, which has been in place in Washington for years.
But as she was during her 2016 reelection bid, Wyman was criticized by opponents for not speaking more forcefully against Trump when he has attacked the integrity of mail voting.
Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is pursuing a third term, led Republican Matt Larkin, 59.1% to 40.9%.
Ferguson established a reputation this past four years as a fierce legal protagonist to the Trump Administration, compiling an almost unbeaten record.
Larkin, whose endorsements include Granite Falls Rep. Robert Sutherland, Snohomish Mayor John Kartak, and GOP stalwart Dino Rossi, sought to portray Ferguson as soft on crime and public safety.
Commissioner of Public Lands
Hilary Franz, the incumbent Democratic commissioner, was soundly beating Republican Sue Kuehl Pederson, a fisheries biologist, for the four-year job overseeing the state Department of Natural Resources.
Franz, who is pursuing a second term, received 59.3% to 40.6%.
Democrat Mike Kreidler, who has served as insurance commissioner since 2001, was comfortably ahead of Republican Chirayu Avinash Patel.
Kreidler, a former state lawmaker and congressman, had 67.8% to 31.8% .
Republicans will be losing this statewide office as Democratic challenger Mike Pelliciotti of Federal Way was beating incumbent Treasurer Duane Davidson in the first night of ballot counting.
Pelliciotti, a state representative from Federal Way, led Davidson 55.8% to 44.1% in the initial round of ballot counting. Davidson is seeking a second term.
State Auditor Pat McCarthy is on course to win a second term following a strong showing Tuesday.
McCarthy, a Democrat from Pierce County, had a comfortable advantage on Republican Chris Leyba, 60.6% 39.3%.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dospueblos.
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