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Sounding Out Washington Poll Finds Locke With Big Lead Over Craswell Respondents Suggest Democrat’s Views Closer To Their Own

Democrat Gary Locke has a commanding lead over Republican Ellen Craswell in the Washington state governor’s race, and a new scientific survey suggests why.

Locke’s positions on taxes, state spending and growth may be marginally closer to the voters’ views, the survey by Mason-Dixon/Political Media Research indicates.

More than half the voters surveyed said they would vote for the King County executive if they were casting ballots right now. A third would vote for Craswell, a former state senator.

“It’s Locke’s to lose,” said Del Ali, an analyst for the national polling firm. “For her to turn it around, this thing will have to get nasty, nasty, nasty - and even that might start to look like desperation.”

Voters also may be more wary of Craswell, who is painted by Democrats as having radical religious views, than Locke, who is labeled by Republicans as a tax-and-spend liberal.

Asked for their opinions of the two candidates, nearly half said they had a favorable opinion of Locke while 30 percent had an unfavorable opinion. For Craswell, 31 percent had a favorable opinion of her while 38 percent had an unfavorable opinion.

Sheryl Hutchison of the Locke campaign called the poll “terrific news,” particularly because it indicated he is leading in all regions of the state.

The Craswell campaign discounted the results.

“We are waiting for the one poll that’s carried out that has no margin of error - on Nov. 5,” said Kathy Mears, a campaign spokeswoman.

The poll, sponsored by The Spokesman-Review, KHQ-TV in Spokane and KING-TV in Seattle, asked some detailed questions about issues that are part of the candidates’ standard campaign speeches.

Craswell is making tax relief a major campaign theme, promising to reduce or eliminate several state taxes. Locke has talked about “targeted” tax relief for certain businesses that offer such things as day care and health benefits to workers, but no sweeping cuts.

The survey indicates there is no consensus and little passion on taxes, Ali said.

“I don’t think the tax issue has as big a relevance as some people think,” he said.

Asked which of the state’s major taxes should be reduced first, a fourth of all voters said “all of them.” No candidate is calling for across-theboard reductions.

Among voters who chose from a list of taxes, about one in five said the sales tax should be cut first. Neither candidate has suggested cutting the sales tax.

Craswell wants to eliminate the business and occupation tax and the state’s share of the property tax. Those taxes were picked for reductions by about 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively. She has also called for reductions in the motor vehicle excise tax, mentioned by only 4 percent of those surveyed.

“It doesn’t sound like many people want their taxes raised, and they’re looking for leadership on how to do it,” Mears said.

Locke may be closer to the voters’ sentiments when he criticizes the state’s spending limit for endangering schools.

Passed in 1993, Initiative 601 requires state spending to grow no faster than the rate of inflation and the overall population. Locke says school spending should be allowed to grow at the rate of the school population, which is faster than the overall rate.

Craswell supports the 601 limits.

A plurality of voters - 47 percent - agree with Locke, the survey indicates. But 37 percent oppose such a change.

“You can’t say it’s overwhelming” in favor of Locke’s position, Ali said. “The issue is confusing.”

Hutchison agreed, but said she believes voters support the change when it is explained to them. “This shows that when it comes to education, voters want to protect it,” she said.

Craswell is extremely critical of the state’s Growth Management Act, which requires cities and counties to develop detailed plans for future growth and development. She sees that as an unfair encroachment by the state on local governments, and wants to repeal the law. Locke has suggested that the law merely needs “fine tuning.”

Only about a third of voters surveyed were even familiar with the complicated act, which was passed by the Legislature in 1990. Of those who were able to describe some aspect of it, about twice as many approve of the act as disapprove of it.

“This is clearly not an issue that excites people,” Ali said.

Voters in the survey were asked their opinions on the amount of money the state spends in six major areas. About a third said the state should spend the same amount as now for schools, state colleges, welfare, prisons, roads and environmental programs.

“There is no overwhelming passion for less, less, less,” Ali said. “People are not as angry as they were even two years ago.”

Craswell has called for major reductions in state spending to compensate for her proposed tax cuts.

Among the voters pushing for a change - either by spending more or spending less - there were clear distinctions, the survey indicates.

Voters were much more likely to say the state should spend more on public schools, roads and environmental regulations and protection. They were much more likely to say it should spend less on welfare and prisons.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Graphics: 1. Governor’s mansion may be locked up 2. What taxes should be cut?