A dog days primary and a whole lotta candidates. Your guide to Washington’s crowded statewide races

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Washington’s typically sleepy August primary will test the endurance of voters as they navigate a larger-than-usual crop of candidates. The robust turnout of would-be officeholders may be, at least partially, the result of the state making it easier to qualify for the ballot in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The long list of candidates is particularly evident in the statewide races. This year, all nine of those positions are up for reelection. But only one of those races, for lieutenant governor, is an open seat. In the remaining eight races, the incumbents (six Democrats, two Republicans) are seeking reelection. Some of the names on the ballot are well-known, many are not. The statewide Voters’ Guide is a good way to familiarize yourself with the candidates. 

Ironically, the surfeit of candidates comes in a year when traditional campaigning is largely on hold, or at least sharply curtailed, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The situation has forced candidates to get creative (think Zoom happy hour fundraisers), but there’s no replacement for actually getting out and pressing the flesh with donors and voters. The Covid-era restrictions are especially onerous for challengers who by necessity often must work doubly hard to get known and raise money.

And while candidate turnout is high this year, if history is any gauge voter turnout for the state’s dog days primary will be underwhelming. In 2016, just 35 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Washington’s primary. 

A couple of reminders about the primary. Under Washington’s top-two primary system, the two candidates with the most votes move onto the general election, even if they’re from the same party.

Also, Washington is a vote-by-mail state with an 18-day voting period that begins Friday, July 17. That’s the deadline for ballots to be mailed out to voters. Accessible Voting Units are available at county election departments for voters with disabilities. Ballots are due by 8 p.m. August 4, primary day. 

While never a guarantee, incumbency, name recognition and the ability to raise money are often key ingredients to getting elected and getting reelected. Thus, this concise guide to each of the statewide races focuses on the incumbents and the better-known or better-financed candidates and challengers. The dollar amounts listed below were current as of July 15. For the most up-to-date fundraising totals click here

Governor

An apparent record 36 candidates filed to run for governor this year. But even though it’s become an all-comers race, it’s not an open race.

Instead, Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is seeking a rare third term in office. Inslee announced his plan to run again last August shortly after abandoning his longshot bid for president. In doing so, he squashed the plans of several fellow Democrats who had planned to aim for higher office. If re-elected, Inslee would become the first Democrat and only the second Washington governor to serve three consecutive terms. The first, and last, was Republican Dan Evans who left office more than four decades ago. 

With no high-profile Republican Party favorite willing to take on the incumbent, a smorgasbord of candidates threw their hats in the ring. The most widely known is longtime anti-tax activist and initiative sponsor Tim Eyman who launched his candidacy last November. Eyman initially ran as an independent, but later declared himself a Republican. No stranger to scandal, Eyman is currently embroiled in a campaign finance lawsuit brought by the Attorney General’s office. Earlier this year, a judge found Eyman concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Eyman, who still faces a civil trial, denies wrongdoing. 

The long list of self-declared Republican candidates for governor also includes:

Republican state Sen. Phil Fortunato of Auburn who’s perhaps best known for his sponsorship of legislation to allow teachers to be armed. 

Republic Police Chief Loren Culp who made national headlines in 2018 for saying he wouldn’t enforce a new voter-approved gun measure

Former Bothell Mayor Joshua Freed who led an ultimately unsuccessful effort in 2018 to place an initiative on the ballot in King County to ban so-called “safe-injection” sites for heroin users. 

Yakima doctor Raul Garcia who has gotten some recent attention and the backing of well-known Republicans like former Gov. Dan Evans, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and former Attorney General Rob McKenna. 

In the money race, Inslee has a strong lead with $4.4 million raised (well shy of the $7.2 million he had raised by July of 2016). In second place, but far behind Inslee, is Freed who reports having raised nearly $1.4 million. Culp has raised the third most at nearly $857,000 and Eyman is in fourth place with $405,000 raised.

Lieutenant Governor

This is an open seat and may prove the most interesting of the statewide races on the primary ballot.

But first, a bit of background: Washington’s lieutenant governor position is separately elected from the governor (i.e. they don’t run together on a joint ticket) and the position straddles both the executive and legislative branches. When the governor is out of town, the lieutenant governor fills in as acting governor. During the legislative session, the lieutenant governor wields the gavel as president of the state Senate.

In March, incumbent Democrat Cyrus Habib abruptly announced he was leaving politics to become a Jesuit priest. That suddenly created a rare open seat and a bit of a free-for-all. State Sen. Marko Liias, who serves as the Senate Democrats’ floor leader, quickly announced his intention to run for the position. Then came a surprise announcement that shook up the race. Congressman Denny Heck, who had previously announced he wouldn’t seek reelection to Congress, said he would run for lieutenant governor.

Heck, a former state lawmaker and gubernatorial chief of staff, has since raised more than $657,000 and is viewed as a frontrunner. Meanwhile Liias, who seeks to become the first openly gay statewide executive officeholder, is trailing with just over $167,000 raised.

Of the 11 candidates running for lieutenant governor, five identify as Republicans, four as Democrats and two as Libertarian.

Among the Republicans is former Seattle City Council candidate Ann Davison Sattler, former state Rep. Dick Muri and Marty McClendon, who also ran for lieutenant governor in 2016.

Secretary of State

Incumbent Kim Wyman is one of just two Republicans who hold statewide office. Like Inslee, she too is seeking a third term. But while Republicans have held the Secretary of State’s office for more than half-a-century, Wyman faces a potentially tough reelection this year given the backlash in Washington to President Trump. Of Wyman’s three challengers, the most formidable is Democratic state Rep. Gael Tarleton, a former Seattle Port Commissioner and chair of the House Finance Committee, who has a background in national security.

So far Wyman has raised nearly $593,000 toward her reelection while Tarleton has raised just over $280,000.

State Treasurer

Besides Wyman, Washington’s other Republican statewide officeholder is first-term State Treasurer Duane Davidson, a former Benton County treasurer, who beat out a fellow Republican in 2016 to win the position. This year, Davidson faces a sole challenger in Mike Pellicciotti, a Democratic state representative and former assistant attorney general.

While Pellicciotti is a first-time statewide candidate, he’s already demonstrating that he may prove a formidable challenger. So far, he’s raised more than double the campaign cash that Davidson has -- $255,728 to $113,960 – and, like Tarleton, could benefit from an expected Democratic surge in Washington state.

State Auditor

First-term incumbent Pat McCarthy, a former Pierce County Executive, faces two primary challengers. Fellow Democrat Joshua Casey is a Certified Public Accountant who serves on the King County Personnel Board. Republican Chris Leyba is a King County Sheriff’s detective who investigates financial fraud. In a sign that McCarthy is feeling secure about her reelection chances, she’s so far raised only raised about $36,000. In 2016, she raised $163,518.

Attorney General

Incumbent Democrat Bob Ferguson was expected to run for governor this year. But Inslee’s decision to seek a third term disrupted that game plan. So, like Inslee, Ferguson is now seeking his own third term. Having developed a national reputation for suing the Trump administration, Ferguson faces three Republican primary challengers. Seattle attorney Mike Vaska chairs the Mainstream Republicans of Washington and has been endorsed by former Gov. Dan Evans, former Attorney General Rob McKenna and former Congressman Dave Reichert. Vaska also ran for attorney general in 2004. Matt Larkin is a former prosecutor in Pierce and Spokane counties who worked in the George W. Bush White House. Brett Rogers is a former Seattle Police lieutenant and attorney.

Demonstrating the power of incumbency, Ferguson amassed a $3.4 million campaign war chest for his reelection campaign. By contrast, Larkin has raised about $235,000 and Vaska has raised more than $196,000. Rogers has raised just $46,634.

Commissioner of Public Lands

Incumbent lands commissioner Hilary Franz is another Democrat whose potential rise up the political ladder was put on hold after Inslee decided to run for a third term. First elected in 2016, Franz was widely talked about as a candidate for governor. But, instead, she’s seeking a second term. Six other candidates have also joined the race – four Republicans, one Democrat and one Libertarian. But only one, Sue Kuehl Pederson, a former fish biologist and former chair of the Grays Harbor Republican Party, has reported contributions to her campaign -- nearly $25.000. By contrast Franz has raised more than $812,000.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

First elected in 2016, former Democratic state lawmaker Chris Reykdal is seeking reelection at a time when COVID-19 has closed schools and thrown public education into tumult. In June, Reykdal and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction issued guidance to districts on how they might begin to resume in-person classes this fall. Five other candidates also appear on the primary ballot for the nonpartisan office. They include Maia Espinoza, a music teacher and founder of the Center for Latino Leadership, who ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2018. So far Reykdal has reported raising $77,588 and Espinoza $41,403. A third challenger, former Hanford engineer Ron Higgins, has raised about $6,000. 

Insurance Commissioner

Incumbent Democrat Mike Kreidler makes Inslee and the other three-term-seekers look like new kids on the block. A former practicing doctor of optometry and former congressman, Kreidler is seeking his sixth term as insurance commissioner – a position that oversees and regulates the state’s insurance industry. This year Kreidler has drawn two challengers: Libertarian Anthony Welti and Republican Chirayu Avinash Patel. Like auditor Pat McCarthy, Kreidler appears comfortable in his ability to win reelection. He’s raised less than $20,000 to date. By contrast Welti has raised nearly $75,000.