King County executive race: Feel the excitement | Bob Roegner

The most exciting race for King County executive in 20 years is now under way.

But when voters changed county government to be non-partisan, they didn’t necessarily eliminate politics or political party influence.

Four Democrats and one Republican are the leading candidates. Two Democrats are current county council members Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine.

Phillips is from Magnolia and has been preparing himself for this race since he worked in Randy Revelle’s office when Revelle was executive. In between, he also served in the state Legislature. Phillips was the first to enter the race even when it appeared longtime executive Ron Sims might decide to run again. Phillips is well-known in political circles and has had his organization in place the longest.

Dow Constantine from West Seattle also served in the state Legislature and was a county council staff member. He currently serves as chair of the council. He has been around Seattle politics almost as long as Phillips, and has been working to improve his name identification in the balance of the county. His unique first name is prominent on his signs.

Phillips and Constantine are knowledgeable county insiders who need to be able to convince voters that under their leadership, the county would run better, and that others don’t have the experience to run a county of this size.

The other two Democrats are both from the Eastside. Ross Hunter serves in the state House and Fred Jarrett in the state Senate. Jarrett and Hunter were late entrants to the field because state law prohibits them from raising money while the Legislature is in session. As a result, they have had to play catch-up. Jarrett is a Boeing manager and former Mercer Island mayor, and is considered one of the brightest members of the Legislature. Hunter, who has a Microsoft background, has been a House leader.

Jarrett and Hunter are trying to position themselves as county “outsiders” who have the right private and public experience to run the county better than Phillips or Constantine.

All four face the same challenge: How do they separate themselves from one another to get past the primary? The reason for that problem is candidate number five.

As the only woman and only Republican, Susan Hutchison would probably stand out anyway. But when you throw in 20 years on television at KIRO, she becomes a formidable candidate with three times the name recognition as any of her opponents. However, she has never held public office. We don’t know much about her views. While she has engaged in some joint forums with her opponents, her strategy seems to be to “stay above the fray” and minimize opportunities for them or the media to challenge her credentials. Phillips and Constantine actually showed up at one of her appearances to illustrate the point that she is avoiding debates. Also, her opponents believe she is far more conservative than the moderate image her campaign projects. Most political experts expect Hutchison to advance to the general.

But while conservative candidates don’t usually win countywide, if she comes out of the primary leading the pack, it may be hard for the “Democratic” candidate to catch up. A big Seattle turnout due to the mayor and council races could change that theory. Only the top two advance.

All five major candidates live in Seattle or the Eastside, so South King County becomes an important area for mining votes. You can expect to see and hear a lot from the candidates.

If you are an early riser, the Federal Way Mirror and Federal Way Chamber of Commerce are co-sponsoring a forum for executive candidates from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 28, at the Courtyard by Marriott in the Gateway Center.