McKenna leads pack of governor candidates | Bob Roegner

Who will be Washington’s next governor? The field isn’t set yet, but movements have been going on for quite a while. And there may be a twist coming.

Who will be Washington’s next governor? The field isn’t set yet, but movements have been going on for quite a while. And there may be a twist coming.

The big question, of course, is will Democratic incumbent Gov. Christine Gregoire run for a third term? If the governor has made a decision, she is keeping it to herself. Conventional wisdom is that she won’t, and that’s why you see other Democratic candidates making contacts and maneuvering. If she was being more aggressive on the topic, internal Democratic politics would dictate the field was hers until she decided differently.

Other candidates are being careful to not appear to be pushing her out or trying to make a decision for her. But the fact that there is movement, even cautious movement, suggests most believe Gregoire won’t run.

The candidates so far appear to be Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, Congressman Jay Inslee (also from the Snohomish County area) and Spokane State Sen. Lisa Brown.

Inslee would appear to have the inside track because Snohomish and Whatcom counties have large voting areas. But he and Reardon would split votes. Inslee also held public office in Yakima for several years and is still well known over there. He would cut into Brown’s Eastern Washington base.

But none are as well known where it counts — voter-rich King and Pierce counties.

On the Republican side, Rob McKenna is the front-runner and has been all over the state with regular trips to King and Pierce counties. McKenna is already known here, having served on the King County Council.

While King County is considered a Democratic bastion because of Seattle, McKenna’s numbers here in his campaigns for county council and Attorney General are impressive and exceed the Republican base. He has positioned himself as a moderate so well that he found it necessary to repair relations with the conservative wing of the party — by using his office to oppose the president’s heath plan. So far, it has worked and he continues to avoid mistakes.

McKenna could still be vulnerable to a challenge from the right, but the only other serious Republican candidate appears to be moderate Bill Bryant, chairman of the Seattle Port Commission. Bryant is bright, articulate and knowledgeable about the economic needs of the region and state in transportation and education. He has helped restore some of the port’s lost credibility and presents a credible alternative to McKenna.

However, to beat McKenna he will need to significantly improve his visibility and clarify his strategy. As a moderate, he must develop a strategy that either undercuts McKenna with conservatives, isolates McKenna to conservatives only (thereby freeing up moderates), or in a bigger gamble, try to go after Republican and Democrat moderates and independents. In the top-two election format with a crowded field, that is possible.

At this point, McKenna is the front-runner and will be hard to beat. And about that twist I mentioned: So what do the Democrats do if by next spring, Gregoire is out of the race and Reardon, Inslee or Brown haven’t caught fire or haven’t pulled close to McKenna in the polls?

Is it possible that they would then turn to King County Executive Dow Constantine and draft him to run? Constantine has so far said no to running. But he has run off a string of impressive accomplishments in a short period of time. And given Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s political problems, Constantine hasn’t had to share the limelight of success. Could he resist a draft with all the trimmings? If McKenna wins, it could be hard for Constantine to take him out in 2016. He might be persuaded that 2012 is his best shot.

Far-fetched? In politics, nothing is out of the question.