Jay Inslee will keep the title of governor.
After being applauded by Democrats and questioned by Republicans for his efforts to shepherd the state through a pandemic that hit Washington for much of this year, Inslee held an insurmountable lead over Republican Loren Culp.
In a victory statement released as ballot counts continued to come in, Inslee called the victory a sign voters want “to defeat COVID and to rebuild stronger than ever.”
“We are still facing great challenges, but I have never been more optimistic about our capacity to meet them,” he said.
In a Facebook Live session Wednesday afternoon, Culp said he was not conceding, saying he was waiting for more mail-in ballots to be counting and claiming irregularities in the ballot count.
“Corruption. That’s the word of the day,” he said. “Something smells fishy.”
Culp also mentioned he lost his job as chief of police, from which he’d been on a leave of absence to campaign, because the Republic City Council eliminated its one-person police department.
“Feels like a knife in the back,” he told supporters, urging them to call council members.
Republic Mayor Elbert Koontz, however, said closing the department was a purely financial decision by the City Council that had been discussed for about six months. The Ferry County Sheriff’s Department, which has its office in Republic, agreed to a one-year contract for $164,000, which would save the city $61,000 over the cost of running its own department.
Sheriffs deputies had been performing those duties, for free, for about three months while Culp was on a leave of absence to campaign, Koontz said.
“Nobody’s trying to get rid of Loren. He did a great job for us,” the mayor said. The city’s revenue was cut by the closing of a nearby gold mine and a lumber mill and “it’s going to get worse, it’s not going to get better,” he added.
The scrappy challenger tried to take on the incumbent with a campaign style reminiscent of Donald Trump and did just about as well with voters statewide.
Culp and Trump carried Eastern Washington counties. Inslee and former Vice President Joe Biden swamped them in King County and carried most of the other vote-rich Puget Sound areas.
As the Election Night totals rolled in, Inslee had received nearly 60% of the statewide vote. Culp had about 54% of the vote in Spokane County.
Record turnout means there may be hundreds of thousands of votes left to count, but the outcome seems clear.
The race was a study in contrasts.
Inslee, a former legislator, congressman and two-term governor, is one of the state’s most experienced politicians. He also has a national profile from a brief run for president and a reliable guest critic of Trump on national cable news shows. As the pandemic worsened, that criticism has increased.
At 69, he was seeking a third consecutive term, which had been accomplished only by Republican Dan Evans in 1972.
Culp, the chief of a one-person police department in the small Ferry County town of Republic, was running for his first elective office. He’d come to state, later national, prominence by saying he wouldn’t enforce Initiative 1695, restrictions on semi-automatic rifles approved by voters in 2018.
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Inslee eschewed many standard campaign tactics like in-person rallies and speeches, relying instead on a mostly virtual campaign. Even during his twice-weekly news conferences from the governor’s office on COVID-19, he often donned a mask.
Culp mounted a campaign similar to his party’s standard-bearer, with in-person rallies around the state where many in his audience didn’t wear masks. He didn’t discount the value of masks, but said the decision to wear them should be up to the individual, and to require them in stores or offices should be left up to the business owner.
Each has written a book on one of their main political platforms. Inslee’s “Apollo’s Fire” is about the dangers of climate change. Culp’s “American Cop” is his view of the law enforcement and interpretation of the Constitution.