Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna rallied supporters in Aberdeen on Tuesday, fielding questions and pledging to change the course of state government. His appearance comes ahead of a widely anticipated debate with Democratic rival Jay Inslee, slated to be broadcast on nearly every major broadcast affiliate on Thursday.
McKenna visited about 25 supporters at the Grays Harbor Republicans’ “Victory Office” in Aberdeen on Heron Street across from Safeway, then headed a few blocks away to the D&R Theatre to meet with another 100 or so supporters at a fundraising event. Earlier, he met with The Daily World’s Editorial Board. An article from that session is forthcoming. He was even able to meet some of the attendees at the Greater Grays Harbor, Inc’s Business After hours event at The Daily World.
“Every week more people are coming on board,” McKenna told his supporters at his local campaign stop. “Our campaign has strong momentum and it’s broad and that’s where momentum comes from — people talking to people.”
The debate with Inslee, a former congressman, is slated for 9 p.m. Thursday.
Elections officials in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties say they plan to send ballots out next Wednesday.
“We’re not like Washington, D.C., where the atmosphere is toxic,” McKenna said. “In Olympia, there are people who want to get things done.”
McKenna said he had a good feeling that he’ll get support from Grays Harbor come election time, noting he’s won the county twice now as Attorney General, the last time in 2008 with 61 percent of the vote. He lauded the conservative Democrats in the community “as good people,” noting that he used to be able to work frequently with former House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler on transparency and open government issues and former state Sen. Mark Doumit on funding rural meth taskforces.
Kessler is not formally supporting McKenna for governor. Doumit has endorsed him, however, as has state Auditor Brian Sonntag. Doumit and Sonntag are part of a Democrats for McKenna group.
“I know how to build a bi-partisan coalition,” McKenna told his supporters. “The only reason I’m doing this is to have a chance to serve and make a difference and I will work with whoever will work with me to solve the problems of the day. A lot of times that means working with people on the other side of the aisle.”
Jonathan Gerber, president of the Grays Harbor Young Republicans, asked McKenna about recent polls numbers.
“It shows the race is very, very close,” McKenna said. “I’m either a little ahead, tied or, like one point behind. It’s all in there so that’s why the work we’re doing right now is so important and it’s going to come down to who runs the best campaign. That means identifying the voters.”
Gerber, 21, said this is his first governor’s election he’ll be able to vote in and he’s truly excited about the opportunity. He’s calling local voters and urging them to vote and trying to find people his own age to turn out for McKenna.
“I want to get a career, live in this state and be a business person and I just want a government that is not overbearing,” Gerber said. “I want a government that will get off of business’s backs and will help put out a reasonable budget.”
Justin Smith lost his job when Grays Harbor Paper went under more than a year ago.
Five weeks ago, he was re-hired by the new Harbor Paper LLC. He says he had to rent out his house and look for a job out of the county during the interim.
Smith, 30, says he’s a McKenna fan because he hopes, as governor, McKenna can help control regulations and the bureaucracy to ensure Harbor Paper thrives.
“I want someone who is for smaller government, because with big government comes more taxes because you need to cover those programs,” Smith said. “It’s not about spending more money to create jobs. If you raise taxes, it depresses the economy because companies like Harbor Paper won’t hire more people.”
D&R Theatre owner John Yonich helped co-host the event at his theater, which actually helped serve to raise a bit of money for McKenna.
“If we don’t get behind Rob McKenna with our dollars, we’re going to lose them,” he said.
For local Republicans, they’re still smarting from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s razor-thin gubernatorial win eight years from Republican Dino Rossi.
“This is going to be a one of two point race, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be decided by 133 votes out of 3 million,” McKenna told supporters.
Inslee had originally planned to be on the Harbor on Tuesday but canceled because of changes in schedule related to Thursday’s debate, according to his campaign.
He maintained a public talk at a retirement community in Lacey in the early afternoon on Tuesday, according to his calendar. Inslee is slated to meet with The Daily World’s Editorial Board late next week, although it’s unclear if he’ll do any public appearances.
Grays Harbor Democratic Chair Patrick Wadsworth said he’s only met Inslee once, during a crab feed in Pacific County. Wadsworth said Inslee has a lot of supporters on the Harbor, even without public appearances.
“I would really like him to come out here to do something, but time is running out,” Wadsworth said.
Both McKenna and Inslee declared their candidacies weeks apart in June of last year. McKenna has since had a mix of public events, conference appearances and private fundraisers on the Harbor in Aberdeen, Elma and Ocean Shores. Inslee has visited the Harbor for a few hours, stopping at an energy summit in June at the Satsop Business Park, then meeting with Port commissioners later in the same day.
“The difference between McKenna and Inslee is pretty black and white,” Wadsworth said. “McKenna likes the Republican model of just cutting government more.”
Asked what positives he sees in Inslee, Wadsworth replied, “Jay Inslee resonates on the issues that I believe in, taking care of people and not just using the old Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged attitude that if you’re one of the 47 percent, you’re a parasite. He is not an advocate for the super rich and the super wealthy.”