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Incumbency helped in primary races

For some candidates, surviving Tuesday’s primary was a foregone conclusion. It was a top-two primary, and there were only two candidates in the race. That doesn’t mean the results are meaningless.

Some suggest a tough campaign coming this fall, such as a House race in Spokane’s 6th Legislative District, where Republican Rep. John Ahern was leading Democratic challenger John Driscoll on Wednesday by just 57 votes.

“I’m concerned, but I’m not really worried,” Ahern said while considering his closest primary since his election in 2000. “I just think that more Democrats got out than Republicans. But I’m naturally happy to be ahead.”

Driscoll said the close race will give him momentum. He said he’s spent the last six months trying to boost his name recognition by campaigning door-to-door.

“We were thinking all the way this was going to be close, but I did better than I expected,” Driscoll said.

Other results suggest that one candidate – usually an incumbent – could be tough to beat. Sen. Lisa Brown leads opponent John Moyna by more than 3 to 1, and Rep. Timm Ormsby leads challenger Mike Novak by more than 2 to 1. They’re a pair of Democratic incumbents in central Spokane’s strongly Democratic 3rd District, so Republican challengers knew they had a difficult task ahead.

The same can be said of Democratic challengers in a pair of 4th District races against well-established Republican incumbents. Sen. Bob McCaslin is pulling in 57 percent of the vote against Democrat Judi Owens in that district, which gets most of its voters from the Spokane Valley. Rep. Larry Crouse has a slightly smaller lead, with slightly less than 55 percent of the vote, in a race against Linda Thompson.

Higher up the ballot, primary results for two-person primaries suggest a tight general election race between two Eastern Washington natives for state lands commissioner.

Okanogan County rancher Peter Goldmark and incumbent Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland each got about 50 percent of the vote, with Sutherland leading Wednesday evening by about 3,200 votes statewide.

Goldmark’s campaign manager said she’s hoping for the numbers to tighten even more in the coming days of counting. Goldmark led strongly in King and Snohomish counties, although Sutherland was well ahead in Pierce County and most Eastern Washington counties. In Spokane, however, Goldmark had about 51 percent, perhaps on the strength of name recognition from his 2006 congressional race.

Sutherland’s campaign cautioned against reading too much into the primary numbers.

“Four years ago, we got 41 percent in the primary,” said spokesman Todd Myers.

Another two-way race for statewide office has incumbent Attorney General Rob McKenna far ahead of Democratic challenger John Ladenburg, 56 percent to 44 percent.

“He’s throwing a lot of punches, but he’s not landing them,” McKenna said.

Ladenburg’s campaign manager, David Sawyer, argued the challenger’s numbers are a strong showing for a candidate who hasn’t done any advertising or mailings yet. Ladenburg, Sawyer argued, is “within shouting range.”