Officially, Christine Gregoire is Washington’s chief executive for three more years, and paperwork is filed for her to pursue another term after that.
She hasn’t said she will, nor has she said she won’t.
Unofficially, though very obviously, the 2012 campaign for her job is under way.
Three prominent political figures — Aaron Reardon, Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee — are displaying their cravings for the post in an increasingly visible manner.
In varied venues, they’ve been test-driving issues and themes in preparation for the moment when they might emerge from the shadows as full-fledged candidates.
While they’ve surely punched the address of the governor’s mansion into their political GPS devices, there’s no reason for speeding toward the front gate until knowing Gregoire’s plans with some certainty.
About now, the nagging pragmatist in her must be arguing that running again could end badly, even with President Barack Obama atop the ticket. Voters aren’t happy today and will be in a mood to punish someone in the future, and it’s a good bet it’ll be her.
It’s worth noting that the governor updated her resume qualitatively this week. She met with the president Wednesday and he put her in charge of a national panel on homeland security. Maybe she’s destined for a gig in Obama’s administration.
Inslee, a Democratic congressman, is keeping his fingers crossed that Gregoire can find political fulfillment elsewhere. As much as he wants to be governor, he’s pretty much promised he won’t challenge Gregoire if she goes for another run.
His urging for the job dates back nearly a generation. He ran in 1996, finishing fifth in the primary won by Gary Locke, who went on to win in November. In 2003, Inslee considered trying to succeed Locke before deciding against a run.
He’s in a similar exploratory mode now, cultivating his personality in places where it’s less well sown and showing up in places where he’s less accustomed to being seen.
This past week, he stopped in Olympia, joining Gregoire at her news conference on the state’s use of billions of federal stimulus dollars that the liberal congressman helped steer Washington’s way. With Inslee striking his most gubernatorial pose, many in the room left thinking they had just attended his tryout.
McKenna, the state’s Republican attorney general, shows no sign of being deterred by Gregoire’s presence in the race. It would mean a different course and tactic for his campaign.
Upon Dino Rossi’s defeat in 2008, McKenna inherited the torch for a Republican Party nearing 30 years outside the governor’s mansion. McKenna would start in a pretty good position with name familiarity in many parts of the state because of his job.
Give McKenna credit for cementing this identity among potential voters through an endless stream of task forces, press releases, public service announcements and community appearances.
Last month, in what seemed a signal of his intentions, he co-authored a newspaper op-ed on ways to balance the state budget. In it he extols the benefits of a privatized (and likely expanded) liquor industry, the need for less generous health benefits for state workers and a few other ideas for getting rid of budgetary red ink.
Finally, there’s Reardon, the Democratic Snohomish County executive, who is not one to detour around this race simply because Gregoire is in it. Reardon’s toughest opponent will be his hubris, and he will steer clear of the competition if his polling shows victory is beyond his grasp.
Of the three, Reardon displays the least obvious desire for the job yet the sharpest criticism of how the state leaders are doing their jobs. On Thursday, in his State of the County address, Olympia was mentioned 11 times and nearly every one in an unfavorable light.
The undeniable impression one gets is that Reardon thinks he can do a better job.
Will he try — and will Inslee and McKenna try, too — are questions none of them need to answer for a while, officially.