GOP targets vulnerable Democrats in 2 state races | Roegner

The Republican strategy this election season was to concentrate on winning the governor’s office, the state Senate and the state House of Representatives because that is where the real power is.

As a result, most of the other statewide races are fairly predictable, as few Democratic incumbents drew strong challengers.

Two races to watch are the Secretary of State and State Auditor.

Republicans have held the Secretary of State’s office for several decades with moderate, experienced candidates including incumbent Sam Reed, who is retiring. Reed is supporting Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman to replace him. Wyman has held the position in Democratic Olympia for four terms and, other than the governor’s race, she is the Republicans’ best chance at emerging from the election with a statewide office holder.

The county auditor is responsible for county elections and is similar in job duties to Secretary of State. Wyman has the support of most other auditors around the state.

Wyman is being challenged by former state Sen. Kathleen Drew. Drew has put together an impressive campaign, outdistancing three other more well known opponents to win the Democratic primary.

Drew represented the Issaquah area while in the Senate and worked to establish a UW-Bothell campus. She also authored the states Ethics in Public Service Law. Drew has been endorsed by many influential women’s groups.

But a recent allegation by the Thurston County personnel director says that Drew’s husband, Thurston County Assessor Steven Drew, tried to use county staff to obtain information that may have been harmful to Wyman. The allegation has resulted in negative publicity that has marred an otherwise issue-oriented race between two good candidates. The Public Disclosure Commission will investigate.

It’s Drew’s “new ideas” versus Wyman’s “experience.” This is likely to be a Democratic year in Washington and conventional wisdom is that Drew should be the front-runner. But voters can cross over. If they do, this could be the race.

The other interesting race is for State Auditor to replace Democrat Brian Sonntag, who is retiring. There were four Democratic candidates in the primary, none particularly well known. But in a Democratic year, it appeared that whichever one prevailed would be on their way to an easy win as the Republican, James Watkins, was not well known either despite a previous run for Congress. Pierce County legislator Troy Kelley used personal finances to his advantage and ran ads in many local newspapers around the state to build his name identification. It worked, he won the Democratic primary, and he appeared on his way to winning in November.

But two changes have made this a tight race. First, Watkins showed much better among skeptics — including some in his own party — in the primary and around the election circuit. Secondly, he raised questions with the media about Kelley’s past business practices and two lawsuits. Kelley has denied the allegations, but in a race for a position where voters demand a high level of candidate perfection, they appear to have had an impact. Kelley has countered by raising questions about Watkins’ audit credentials. The charges and counter-charges have frustrated many in their attempt to pick the best candidate.

Even the Association of Washington Business decided not to endorse either of the two businessmen. Since AWB usually supports Republicans, that may harm Watkins more than Kelley.

However, Kelley is still the front-runner and expected to win.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Brad Owen was on his way to another term in office in his race with Republican and former former State Sen. Bill Finkbeiner when issues surfaced about use of state resources to support a charity that his wife works for. Owen agreed to pay a fine. The issue didn’t get wide play, so it is hard to gauge the political impact. With only a few weeks left, there is still time for the issue to be raised in a more pointed manner. Owen is well known statewide for his efforts in working with schools and students. Owen has built up a lot of name familiarity. Absent a well financed and aggressive media campaign from Finkbeiner, Owen will be re-elected.

Democrats Mike Kreidler (Insurance Commissioner), Peter Goldmark (Land Commissioner) and Randy Dorn (State Superintendent of Schools) all appear like easy winners. So does U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell.

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