Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna conceded Friday night to former Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee in the Washington governor’s race.
“Today we come to the end of a long journey,” McKenna said in a video concession address to his supporters, adding that “it appears we will fall short of victory when the last ballots are counted.”
McKenna said he called Inslee earlier to offer his congratulations to Washington’s next governor.
At a news conference, Inslee called it “a great delight and honor” to be in line to become the state’s next chief executive and vowed to work for all of the people of a politically divided Washington state.
Inslee, 61, who resigned from Congress in March to run for governor, had maintained a small but steady margin of 40,000 to 50,000 votes over McKenna since Tuesday’s election.
With 2.7 million votes counted at 7:32 p.m. Friday, Inslee had 1,357,008 votes (51%) to McKenna’s 1,300,842 (49%) — a difference of more than 56,000 votes.
Vote results showed McKenna was carrying every county in Eastern Washington, but as is usually the case in the state, the more populous, heavily Democratic counties in Western Washington were too much for the Republican candidate to overcome.
A spokesman for McKenna said the gubernatorial candidate no longer believed he would be able to make up the difference in the vote totals. “It just became apparent there wasn’t enough of a buildup … enough of an offset” in the remaining votes to be counted, the spokesman said.
On Friday night, Inslee told his supporters that McKenna had “graciously called” him earlier in the night to concede the race. “I congratulated him on a very vigorous campaign,” Inslee said.
“I’m very excited about this,” he added, saying it is “a great delight and honor” to be Washington’s next governor.
Inslee said he would work hard for all of the people in Washington. “I represent 100 percent of the people of Washington as of tonight.”
Inslee will succeed Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who had announced in March that she would not seek a third term.
In a statement late Friday night, Gregoire said, “I have congratulated governor-elect Inslee on his victory and offered my assistance. He will be a champion for the people of Washington, and I know he will serve our state well.
“I thank Attorney General McKenna for his service to the people of Washington. His willingness to continue that service by running for governor reflects his dedication to our state,” Gregoire said.
Inslee served in the state House for four years before winning election to the U.S. House in 1992 from Washington’s 4th Congressional District. He lost his bid for re-election in 1994 to Republican Doc Hastings.
Inslee first ran for governor in 1996 but lost in the Democratic primary to Gary Locke, who later became governor.
Inslee ran again for Congress in 1998, this time in the 1st Congressional District, and won. He served in that seat until he resigned March 20, 2012, to run for governor.
On Wednesday, the day after the general election, Inslee said, “I am very confident that we will be in a position to lead the state of Washington for the next four years.”
Inslee’s campaign has crunched numbers and done county-by-county modeling, and aides said the uncounted ballots will continue to favor the former congressman.
Indeed, at a news conference Wednesday morning, the Democrat was already sounding very gubernatorial, even announcing plans for his administration.
“We are starting today the process of organizing a transition organization for the governor’s office of the state of Washington,” he said.
Inslee even made clear the kind of people who will serve on his transition team. He said he wants those from outside of Olympia who have a background in business and job creation, a priority of his campaign.
McKenna didn’t make a public comment Wednesday. But at his Election Night rally, he made it clear why he thinks the remaining ballots will move in his direction.
“I had a big lead among later voters, including a substantial number of late-deciding Democratic voters,” he said. “When those ballots are tabulated, we believe we will be in the lead and we’ll be in the lead for good.”
“Wait a little longer,” McKenna told his supporters late Tuesday night. “This year it will be worth the wait.”
Under Washington’s mail-in voting law, ballots dropped off before 8 p.m. Tuesday or with a Tuesday postmark will be counted.
Washington has not elected a Republican governor since John Spellman won the seat in 1980. Current Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire announced she would not seek a third term, opening the way for Inslee and other Democrats to vie for the office.
In 2004, the race between Gregoire and Dino Rossi was so close that there were two recounts and Gregoire was eventually declared the winner by 133 votes out of 2.8 million cast.
In other state races, Democratic King County Councilman Bob Ferguson won the state attorney general’s race. Democrat Jim McIntire defeated Sharon Hanek 58-42% for state treasurer.
Republican Kim Wyman was leading Democrat Kathleen Drew by about 41,000 votes for secretary of state, and Democrat Troy Kelley was leading Republican James Watkins 52-48% for state auditor.
In addition, Democrat Peter Goldmark defeated Republican Clint Didier 58-42% for commissioner of public lands, and Democrat Mark Kriedler defeated Republican John Adams 58-42% for insurance commissioner.
Republican Bill Finkbeiner on Wednesday conceded the race for lieutenant governor to incumbent Brad Owen, who held a 54-46% advantage among counted votes.
“The voters have chosen to keep Brad Owen in as the lieutenant governor. I have a lot of respect for Brad,” Finkbeiner said in a statement. “He cares about the Legislature, presides fairly over the Senate and is a dedicated public servant.”
McKenna, a two-term Washington state attorney general, may be best known for having joined the lawsuit by several states against President Obama‘s Affordable Health Care Act. He stood in contrast to Inslee on issues of health care, economic development and education funding.
Inslee supported the high-profile ballot measure Referendum 74, which legalizes same-sex marriage while McKenna did not support it. Inslee also said that he would not vote in support of I-502, an initiative that allows for legal use of marijuana for adults over 21, but would not seek to overturn it. “I will be protective of the will of the voters here.” McKenna said he opposed it.
The campaign between McKenna and Inslee saw each candidate raising $10 million, in addition to another $10 million in independent expenditures.
On Friday night, after conceding the race, McKenna said his future “is up in the air,” but added that “public service is in my DNA.”