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Thursday, September 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Voter choices abundant on lengthy primary ballot

Washington’s Aug. 7 primary offers voters a long ballot, with some familiar names and even more that most won’t recognize.

All voters have nine choices for governor, eight for U.S. senator, seven for secretary of state, six for lieutenant governor and five for state schools superintendent. Some have only one choice for legislative seats held by well-funded incumbents.

• The race drawing the most attention is between Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee to fill the governor’s seat being vacated by Chris Gregoire, a Democrat. Both McKenna and Inslee have long political pedigrees.

Inslee was a state legislator, then a congressman from Central Washington for one term before being pushed out in the 1994 Republican revolution. He relocated to Western Washington, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1996, then won a U.S. House seat in the northern Puget Sound’s 1st District two years later. He resigned that seat earlier this year to campaign full time for governor.

McKenna was a King County councilman before winning the job of state attorney general in 2004, a job left vacant when its occupant, Gregoire, ran for governor. McKenna easily won re-election in 2008 and has been the odds-on favorite for the 2012 Republican gubernatorial nomination since then.

Washington hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980, but this year that string is in doubt. Both major candidates are well-funded, and they have already spent more than $4 million on a race being watched around the country.

• At the top of the ballot is the U.S. Senate race in which two-term incumbent Maria Cantwell faces seven opponents. Spokane state Sen. Mike Baumgartner and physician Art Coday are vying for support from the state’s Republicans. Others are candidates who run for something most years, like Mike the Mover, whose name is also that of his Seattle-area business, and Ritzville’s Glenn Stockwell, who wants the federal government to expand the Columbia Basin Project.

• Local races with incumbents are less crowded, but central Spokane’s 3rd District has a five-way race for a state House seat that opened when Rep. Andy Billig jumped into the state Senate race for the seat left open by Lisa Brown’s retirement. Billig, a Democrat, faces Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, a Republican, for the Senate seat. Three Democrats and two Republicans are fighting it out for his House seat.

Three Republicans and one Democrat hope to fill the House seat left open by Republican John Ahern’s retirement in the 6th District.

Many legislative races are either warm-ups for the fall, with just two candidates who automatically move to the Nov. 6 ballot, or non-contests. There are no challengers to two of three incumbents in Spokane’s 4th District and Northeast Washington’s 7th District. Southeast Washington’s 9th District has no challengers to the three incumbents.

There are a couple of peculiarities to Washington’s primary. They’re not partisan contests, and candidates list their party preference but don’t necessarily have that party’s endorsement. The top two vote-getters go to the general election regardless of party, so it’s possible that some fall elections will feature two Republicans or two Democrats.

While the primary isn’t partisan, some offices are and some aren’t. In many nonpartisan races, a candidate who collects more than 50 percent of the primary vote advances alone to the general election. That means the state Supreme Court races and the state superintendent of public instruction race could be won when primary ballots are counted.

The entire state votes by mail, with ballots sent to voters more than two weeks ago. Those ballots can be deposited in drop boxes by 8 p.m. Tuesday, or mailed with a postmark no later than Tuesday evening.

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