Last chance for some late election shuffles

The Republicans need a good candidate for the new 1st Congressional District, and the Democrats need a better gubernatorial candidate. Answers below.

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Rep. Dave Reichert (R-8th)

The Republicans need a good candidate for the new 1st Congressional District, and the Democrats need a better gubernatorial candidate. Answers below.

As expected, Rep. Dave Reichert has taken a pass on running for the Senate against Sen. Maria Cantwell. Score points for the Republican for using the feint of running against Cantwell as a way to get a more Republican 8th district from the redistricting commission. Reichert now has a comfortable seat, at least for an incumbent, as long as he wants it.

So things are settling down for the 2012 election. But there are still a few wild cards. One is: will the GOP field a serious candidate against Cantwell, or concede that race to focus on the governor's race? Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant, an independent Republican and international trade specialist, is still being pressed to run. Bryant is relatively unknown in the state, rather moderate for stirring up the Republican activists, and Cantwell has a big lead. Still, I can imagine Bryant, who's itching for higher office, to serve the party, establish his statewide reputation, and position himself for a future race. The GOP would be grateful if he at least ties up some of the Cantwell money.

A second open question is whether the GOP is going to field a strong candidate for the new 1st congressional district, vacated by Rep. Jay Inslee, who's running for governor. The leading GOP candidate, John Koster, is too much a Tea Party candidate to be well matched for the affluent, tech-rich, highly educated district. Better would be Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb, a fiscal conservative who's been stabilizing Bothell's finances and is a real comer in the renaissance of Republican moderates in the state. (Lamm is apparently not interested in Congress.)

As for the state offices, it looks like former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is serious about running for secretary of state. It would be a tough race for Nickels, who's not beloved statewide and faces some serious Republican candidates for an office that is normally held by cheerful Republican moderates; the most likely GOP candidate, out of central casting for this post, is Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman. The GOP will be concentrating on winning the governorship, and holding the attorney general and secretary of state positions.

The really wild card is the governor's race. Democratic interest groups, particularly labor and environmentalists, cleared out the Democratic nomination early for Inslee, with early endorsements and cash. But Inslee's race is not going well. He hasn't quit Congress, so he's still a part-time campaigner; he hasn't shown much mastery of state issues (a real vulnerability against McKenna, who's a whiz kid on such issues), polls 20 points behind on attracting independents, and his main pitch (green jobs) lies way down the list of voters' concerns (jobs, education, and the state budget crisis head the list of priorities).

With Inslee seemingly headed for defeat, might the Democratic sachems turn elsewhere? There's really only one candidate who could both siphon off Inslee's support, prove a reliable-enough party loyalist, and have enough public approval to win over independents. That would be King County Executive Dow Constantine. Constantine doesn't face reelection until 2013, so the race would be a free ride for him. He would have to be drafted, so it didn't look disloyal to the party. And if the major interests did defect from Inslee, there would still be time for him to gracefully decide that Congress (or an Obama appointment) is his natural metier.

More likely would be a kind of professional intervention in Inslee's amateurish campaign, refocusing the message and disciplining the improvisatory candidate.

And why would Constantine make such a jump at this time? Just do the math. He's now 51, and if he passes on the governor's race this time, it normally means an eight-year wait, as the next governor is likely to last at least two terms. That's a long time, and it's hard to imagine Constantine retaining his popularity as King County Executive, given all the budgetary pain he has to inflict. More likely, Constantine would be a last-minute, "surprise" entry into the 2013 race for Seattle mayor.


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