Opinion

Independent voters will decide 2012 election | Bob Roegner

As noted in last week’s column discussing the front-runners for several statewide offices, the Democrats appear to be trying to field a full slate of candidates.

The Republicans’ strategy is to target the state House, Senate and governor’s office along with a couple of other positions.

The highlight, of course, is the race for governor between Democrat and former Congressman Jay Inslee, and Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna. McKenna continues to lead in the polls by 3 percent to 5 percent. Inslee has represented both Yakima and Everett in Congress, but struggles with name identification where it counts the most in King and Pierce counties.

McKenna is well known in King County after serving on the King County Council. He typically runs above the countywide Republican average, even though the county leans Democratic. That suggests he has picked up independent voters who then swing back Democratic for other candidates.

Democratic strategists are trying to support and defend many different statewide candidates while Republicans are banking on electing McKenna. If state Republican leaders had a farm to bet, they would bet it on making McKenna the first Republican governor since John Spellman about 30 years ago. Inslee has to establish a signature issue to gain momentum and public attention, or McKenna has to stumble. If not, McKenna will maintain his front-runner status into November.

Democrat Maria Cantwell is the obvious front-runner to retain her U.S. Senate seat, and only first-term Republican State Senator Michael Baumgartner from Spokane will give her much of a challenge. Republican leaders appear to be directing their interests elsewhere.

First-term incumbent Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark is a rare political combination. He is a Democrat from the east side of the mountains. He got a late challenge from Tea Party conservative Clint Didier. But Goldmark will get a unique array of votes. West side and east side Democrats, and even some east side moderate Republicans. Goldmark will be hard for Didier to beat unless he raises a significant amount of money.

Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn faces three challengers, but is the front-runner. The superintendent is a non-partisan position. Dorn got off to a rocky start early in his term, but seemed to find his footing more recently. The position has become somewhat controversial as Gov. Christine Gregoire introduced a bill to elevate the state’s focus on education by creating a new Executive Department of Education — with the director reporting to her. Dorn opposed the move, as did the Legislature, and it didn’t pass. With the state under court direction to improve education funding, debates among the candidates should be worth attending. It is possible that one of the candidates could create enough attention to mount a challenge. But at this point, Dorn is still the person to beat.

Incumbent Democratic Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler appears to be in good shape as the two Republicans will struggle for the attention necessary to create a close race.

Democratic incumbents Cantwell, Goldmark, Kreidler along with Democratic incumbent Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and Dorn all look formidable.

Democrats will also be very competitive in the races for Secretary of State and State Auditor, and President Obama is likely to win the state.

But the state Senate and House are up for grabs and Republican McKenna leads for governor at this point. If this mix of probable winners is confusing to you, you’re not alone.

Our state traditionally votes Democratic. We have more Democrats than Republicans primarily because of the area around Puget sound. We have a large number of independents who tend to be political moderates and lean Democratic.

But those independents, not surprisingly, can actually be independent. Straight party-line voters won’t decide these elections — independent voters will. The candidates and their political operatives will craft the message. The question is, which message will resonate with independent voters this year?

Right now we are seeing mixed signals from voters that could result in several winners from both parties.

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