Inside Politics: The governor's race gets tighter

New polls show a statistical tie. But it's possible another shift could be under way.
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Rob McKenna during an appearance on KCTS with Enrique Cerna

New polls show a statistical tie. But it's possible another shift could be under way.

We finally have two new public polls in the governor’s race, and they confirm what was widely assumed: The GOP bounce since the first Romney-Obama debate has brought this race back within the margin of error.

SurveyUSA’s poll, conducted Fridaythrough Sunday (Oct. 12-14), showed Democrat Jay Inslee leading 47 percent to 44 percent.  Rasmussen’s poll, conducted entirely on Sunday showed Inslee leading 47 percent to 45 percent. Both results are well within the polls’ margin of error.  These results are consistent with private polling I am aware of. This race is essentially tied at this point

Let’s be clear. If all the final polls show either candidate with a slight lead the weekend before the election it is likely that candidate will be the winner, even if that lead is within the margin of error. At this point, however, with nearly 10 percent undecided, all we can say for sure is the race is too close to call.

This race has proceeded in roughly four phases. For several months, McKenna had a slight lead, presumably based on his greater familiarity with the voters, having been elected statewide twice before. Once Inslee began TV advertising in the period just before the August primary election, he took a small lead as Democrats became familiar with their candidate for governor.

After the Democratic convention, it appears Inslee benefited from the same Democratic surge that threatened to turn the presidential campaign into a rout, and we saw a SurveyUSA poll in late September giving Inslee a lead outside the margin of error.

Now the most recent SurveyUSA poll shows Mitt Romney gaining 6 percent in Washington state, with Rob McKenna being pulled upward also, and the governor's race is back to even.

This situation is very fluid. These polls were taken last weekend. Since then the Romney momentum has continued. On Wednesday, the Gallup tracking poll gave Mitt Romney a 6 percent lead, but that was before the second presidential debate. Will that debate alter the campaign’s trajectory in either direction?

There are more Democrats than Republicans in Washington. In order to win, Rob McKenna needs a national atmosphere that is not too hostile to Republicans. As of now, he has that. Now he has to drive home a closing message that will convince tens of thousands of independents and soft Democrats who are going to vote for President Obama and Sen. Maria Cantwell, that they should cross over and support him for governor. Can he pull it off?


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About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Chris Vance, a former Republican party chairman, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.