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Finally, timing was on Lowry’s side. He ran when a huge Democratic wave swept Bill Clinton and Patty Murray into the nation’s capitol and landed Lowry in the Governor’s office, 52 percent to 48 percent.
1996: Ellen Craswell vs. Gary Locke. King County Executive Gary Locke, a former budget expert in the Legislature, won the Democratic primary, defeating Seattle Mayor Norm Rice and, in a distant third, Jay Inslee, who had lost his seat in Congress after a single term two years previously.
But the real gift to Locke on primary night was Ellen Craswell winning the Republican nomination. Half-a-dozen viable Republicans divided the primary vote, allowing Craswell to barely eke out a narrow victory over legislative leader Dale Foreman from Wenatchee, who would have been a formidable contender, as would've Norm Maleng or attorney Jim Waldo. It was like the 1980 primary that delivered Jim McDermott in reverse.
Ellen entered politics as a fiscally conservative Republican legislator from a Democratic district in Kitsap County. But a cancer scare changed her life and her priorities: the Reagan Republican became a Pat Robertson Republican. Gary Locke came across as a moderate alternative to both Craswell and Mike Lowry, who declined to run for a second term. And it helped that his wife, the attractive, smart and popular KING-5 reporter Mona Lee Locke, became pregnant with their first child during the campaign. The final result wasn't close; 58-42 percent. Gary Locke became America's first Chinese-American Governor, whose immigrant grandfather once worked as a servant in exchange for English lessons. A classic American success story.
2000: Another unwinnable race. Think of it as a Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass with no one in the end zone. After years of telling prospective candidates to study polling, demographic and elections data before committing themselves to a race, I stepped into the Guv's race in March of 2000 dismissing the significance of a poll where 73 percent of the voters believed Washington was on the “right track,” and another showing that 58 percent would support Gary Locke's re-election no matter who ran against him.
Why so popular? The strongest economy in state history had generated a billion dollar surplus. A Republican Legislature made the governor invaluable to his party's base, but also made him more moderate than Lowry, as he signed welfare reform and several tax cuts into law. His implied theme couldn’t have been simpler: “Why change?”
The Republican primary had me facing off against a colorful, outspoken state senator from Moses Lake named Harold Hochstatter. During a duel appearance in Wenatchee, he was asked where he stood on the death penalty. "Right next to the switch," he said.
I won 38 of 39 counties in the primary, but to no avail. Gary’s final winning percentage in November: 58 percent.
2004: Dino Rossi vs. Chris Gregoire. At a time of hyper partisanship nationally, state Sen. Dino Rossi became a political star in Olympia for reaching across the aisle to produce a no-new taxes budget with key Democrats. Together with an inspiring life story — the son of a school teacher who worked his way through college sweeping the floors at the Space Needle — he was the face of the New Republican party. It resulted in the closest race for governor in American history, which Gregoire was awarded on a third count, after losing the initial count, and a recount, to Rossi.
One interesting side note: The 2004 campaign was twice as expensive as any previous run for governor, and the trend has accelerated. In 2000, about $6.5 million was spent on the governor’s race by the candidates, political parties and third parties. In 2004 it passed $15 million. In 2012, more than $45 million.
2008: A rematch. Gregoire’s 133 vote victory was pricey: She spiked state spending by a third in just four years. Rossi argued that her spending spree had put us on an unsustainable path, making a balanced budget impossible regardless of what happened to the economy. Gregoire shot back that Rossi’s claims of a $2.5 billion shortfall were gross exaggerations.
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