McKenna has edge in governor race | Bob Roegner

This week, Democratic candidate for governor Jay Inslee finally took his long expected roll of the dice and announced he would resign from Congress on March 20.

This week, Democratic candidate for governor Jay Inslee finally took his long expected roll of the dice and announced he would resign from Congress on March 20.

By resigning after March 6, the position remains vacant until after the elections in November. It also frees up Inslee to campaign full time while at the same time avoiding what could become some difficult congressional decisions.

If he had resigned prior to March 6, the governor would have had to call for a special election. For Inslee, it was both a smart and practical decision. And it also distracted the media from probing a more awkward story that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer hosted a fundraiser for him. Spitzer resigned as governor after he became more well known as “customer number 9” in a call girl ring.

Inslee has consistently trailed his opponent, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, in the polls — and trying to campaign from 3,000 miles away wasn’t helping.

Inslee has raised more money than McKenna, who was hampered by rules that prohibit fundraising by state office holders when the Legislature is in session. Once the Legislature goes home, McKenna will start raising money again and will likely raise more money than Inslee by the time the race is over. During the three-day break between the regular session and the special session, McKenna raised more than $250,000.

Inslee is well known in Snohomish County and in Yakima, where he represented that area in Congress from 1993-1995. But King County and Pierce County are the big prizes, and Inslee needs to spend time there to improve his name identification. According to one poll, more than 30 percent of the voters have not formed an opinion on either candidate, although McKenna has a 4 percent advantage among voters who have formed an opinion. McKenna is more well known among likely voters in both places after two statewide races and his service on the King County Council.

Additionally, McKenna has had the advantage of being able to travel the state in his official capacity and campaign at the same time. In reading newspapers from other parts of the state, rarely a week goes by that McKenna isn’t giving a speech at a civic club somewhere. Today, he is in Kent.

In King County, McKenna runs several points above the Republican base, suggesting that he attracts the key independent and moderate voters so crucial in statewide elections.

Inslee desperately needs to cut into that advantage.  Also, by resigning from Congress, Inslee may have also put to rest another scenario.

Some well connected Democrats have considered the possibility that if Inslee doesn’t improve his numbers soon, there might be a movement to draft someone else to head the Democratic ticket. The name most often mentioned is King County Executive Dow Constantine, although Constantine has said he isn’t interested. Inslee’s move may finally diminish those rumors.

McKenna had his own challenge recently as all the Republican presidential candidates were in the state, and Democrats were trying to get McKenna to announce his preference.

McKenna didn’t take the bait, and that became the story. Why wouldn’t McKenna state which candidate he prefers to head the ticket in his own party? Because it wouldn’t have been very smart. McKenna has made pretty smart political decisions so far during this race.

McKenna knows liberals and conservatives usually don’t win statewide, but moderates do.

Inslee needs to paint McKenna as a conservative, which he probably is, but McKenna is marketing himself as a moderate.

If McKenna supports Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul, he provides the “proof” Democrats are looking for that he is a conservative, and they will use that to wedge independent moderates toward Inslee.

If McKenna were to support Mitt Romney, he would face backlash from conservatives in his own party because they would have the “proof” that he really is the moderate many of them think he is.

It wasn’t that long ago that Republican conservatives were looking for someone to challenge McKenna in the primary.

Right now, McKenna is leading. But will Inslee’s gamble of an “I’m all in” decision tighten things up? And now that he has the time, will more voters get to know him? And what will their reaction be?

This could become an interesting race.