Republicans hoping to regain the governorship in Olympia in 2012 want to avoid a primary, increasing the chances for front-running Attorney General Rob McKenna to prevail in the general election. One problem: Would Rep. Dave Reichert (R-8th) be a stronger candidate? On the Democratic side, the question is whether Dow Constantine would be the stronger candidate than Jay Inslee (see below).
The joker in this deck is some recent polling data. Public Policy Polling did a poll on May 17, showing Reichert losing to presumed Democratic candidate Jay Inslee (D-1st) by 6 points, 36-42. That same poll has McKenna beating Inslee by 40-38.
A poll by Survey USA on April 20, a month earlier, had McKenna besting Inslee by 48-41, compared with the Reichert-Inslee spread of 46-44. The combined figures: McKenna over Inslee, 44-40; Inslee over Reichert, 43-41. The matchup of these Republicans against Gov. Gregoire tilts in McKenna's favor decisively (winning by 9 and 12 point spreads), while Reichert loses the PPP poll to Gregoire by 41-45.
These are pretty strong figures for Reichert, who is not a statewide figure and hasn't been campaigning nonstop across the state as McKenna has been doing in the past half year.
Might Reichert be interested in such a race, giving up his now fairly safe Congressional seat? He's hinted at such aspirations, along with possibly challenging Sen. Maria Cantwell in 2012. One view of those coy hints is that Reichert is sending a message to the redistricting commission to carve out a safer seat for him in Congress, inducing him to stay in his Congressional post and doesn't overturn other political apple carts. Even so, Republicans are so desperate to have a winner of the governor's race (after what would be 28 years of Democrats in the mansion), that they might start twisting Reichert's arm.
A serious problem that Reichert would have in a GOP primary is his moderately green record, including a hugely controversial vote on climate change legislation that still infuriates rank and file Republicans. However, Reichert's moderate voting record, essential to his holding his seat in the 8th C.D., might make him a better candidate in the general election.
The polls do not include Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant in the contests, though Bryant continues to explore a race, running as either an independent or a left-of-McKenna Republican. Party pooh-bahs are said to be trying to dissuade Bryant, an attractive, business-and-trade-oriented moderate who is ambitious for higher office than the Port. King County Executive makes sense, except Constantine is doing a widely admired job. Mayor of Seattle? Bryant's Republican past is a deal-killer.
Another factor in the governor's race is how weak the presidential challengers to Obama are looking. If that turns out to be a one-sided contest, and Sen. Cantwell also has a cruise to re-election, that could free up a lot of Democratic money to pour into the governor's race and legislative races. Democrats have a strong advantage in get-out-the-vote efforts. Inslee has statewide appeal (he was once a Congressman from the Tri-Cities). Democratic interest groups will be determined to protect their positions from more budget cuts and to restore funding. All this has Republicans worrying that McKenna, though he'd be a far better governor than Reichert, may not have the necessary appeal on the stump as "Sheriff Dave."
Note that Reichert and Inslee will be paired speakers at the Seattle Downtown Rotary luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel, June 8.
Meanwhile, the poll I'd like to see is one comparing King County Executive Dow Constantine against McKenna. Constantine, who used to dream about being mayor of Seattle some day, is now more inclined to think about the governorship as his next step up. It's too early, and he has huge amounts of work still to do to rescue the county from years of drift. But if Constantine, 49, passes this time, the next likely opening for governor would be 2020.