OLYMPIA — Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee advanced through Washington state’s primary Tuesday night, setting up what is expected to be one of the most competitive governor’s races in the country.
Early results had Inslee with 47 percent of the vote and McKenna with 43 percent, putting them far ahead of seven other contenders in the gubernatorial contest.
Inslee called the result a “really positive milestone on the way to November.”
Under the state’s “top two” primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party.
“As they say in the Olympics, the prelims are over, now on to the final,” McKenna told a cheering crowd at the state Republican Party headquarters in Bellevue.
McKenna and Inslee have each raised more than $7 million already, and their campaigns have been focused against each other for months. In Grays Harbor County, Inslee (5,520 votes, 48.4 percent) was leading McKenna (4,704, 41.3 percent), while the race was closer in Pacific County: Inslee (2,336, 44.9 percent), McKenna (2,135, 41 percent).
They are vying to replace Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is not seeking a third term.
In another statewide race, U.S. Maria Cantwell advanced to the November ballot, along with Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. Voters are also choosing candidates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, three state Supreme Court seats and dozens of legislative seats.
Washington state and three other states — Kansas, Michigan and Missouri — held primaries on Tuesday.
All of Washington’s 3.7 million voters receive their ballots by mail, and had to have them postmarked and in the mail by Tuesday or dropped off at specialized boxes around the state by 8 p.m. Ballots were sent out last month.
All of the state’s 39 counties reported their initial returns Tuesday night, and will do updates to their counts as ballots continue to arrive in the mail in the coming days.
Reed had been predicting a 46 percent turnout. As of Tuesday night, turnout was 22 percent but was expected to increase as ballots continue to arrive.
All 10 congressional seats were on the ballot, including the competitive 1st District. Voters for the newly redistricted seat — which runs from northern King County to the Canadian border — had five Democrats, one Republican and one independent to choose from.
Republican John Koster advanced to the November ballot along with former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene, a Democrat who had to fend off a slate of other Democrats.
Voters in the old 1st District — which includes Kitsap County — also voted in a special election for the final month of Inslee’s term, and Koster and DelBene advanced in that race as well.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen advanced to November, along with former Republican state Sen. Bill Finkbeiner.
An open seat for Washington’s top election official also has attracted a large crowd. Kim Wyman, Thurston County’s Republican auditor advanced through the primary, as did Democrat Kathleen Drew, a former state senator and former aide to Gregoire.
In the race to replace retiring Auditor Brian Sonntag, Republican James Watkins advanced through the primary with more than 45 percent of the vote.
Rep. Troy Kelley of Tacoma had more than 24 percent, and Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver had more than 20 percent as they battled for the second spot.
In some races, the primary was more decisive. The three seats for state Supreme Court, as well as the race for the state’s top education post, are subject to special rules that allow any candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the vote to advance alone to the general election ballot.
Randy Dorn, the current superintendent of public instruction, advanced by more than 54 percent, a large enough margin that he can likely advance to the general ballot unopposed.
Justices Susan Owens and Steve Gonzalez easily retained their seats, and Seattle appeals lawyer Sheryl Gordon McCloud is leading a crowded field seeking to replace retiring Justice Tom Chambers.
McCloud is leading with nearly 32 percent of the vote. F
ormer Justice Richard Sanders is collecting 27.5 percent, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer 25.6 percent, and former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg 15 percent. If no candidate wins 50 percent, the top two advance to the general election.