The race to be the next Governor of Washington- assuming Christine Gregoire retires- looks like a toss up. Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna leads Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee 40-38 in PPP's first look at the match up, but with 23% of Democrats undecided compared to only 13% of Republicans Inslee would likely make up that small deficit pretty fast once he got into a statewide campaign.
McKenna and Inslee are both relatively unknown but have good numbers with the voters who are familiar with them. McKenna's early advantage is probably attributable to higher name recognition- 60% of voters know enough about him to have formed an opinion compared to 51% for Inslee. McKenna's favorability is a +8 spread (34/26) and Inslee's is a +9 spread (30/21). Independents like both of the candidates although McKenna (41/22) a little bit more so than Inslee (29/23).
McKenna is overcoming Democrats' natural advantage in the state right now because he's up by 11 points with independents (41-30) and because he has 79% of Republicans behind him right now to 68% of Democrats who are with Inslee. McKenna's not actually winning over very many Democrats but a lot more of them are undecided- if they 'come home' in the way that you would expect you're looking at a tie race.
There's no doubt Democratic prospects for holding onto this office would be better with Inslee as the candidate than if Gregoire sought a third term. She continues to be unpopular with only 38% of voters approving of her to 48% who disapprove. She would trail McKenna 49-40 in a head to head, including a 26 point deficit with independents.
Republicans would likewise be better off with McKenna than Congressman Dave Reichert, who's also been speculated about as a possible candidate. Only 25% of voters have a favorable opinion of Reichert to 36% with an unfavorable one, and he would start out 6 points behind Inslee in a hypothetical contest at 42-36. In the highly unlikely instance of a match up between the unpopular Gregoire and the unpopular Reichert, Gregoire would have a 45-41 advantage.
Senate numbers we released yesterday showed that Maria Cantwell's not in much trouble and President numbers we'll likely release tomorrow will show that Barack Obama doesn't have much to worry about in Washington either- the action is definitely going to be in the Governor's race next year.
Full results here