OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee are poised to advance to one of the country’s most competitive governor’s races as voters return their ballots in Washington state’s primary.

Also being decided in Tuesday’s primary are several high-profile races in which the competition is more pitched, including a crowded ticket for the 1st Congressional District, the seat from which Inslee resigned to focus on the governor’s race.

While seven other candidates are also seeking to advance through the gubernatorial primary, McKenna and Inslee are presumed to easily make it onto the November general ballot. Each has raised more than $7 million, and their campaigns have been focused against each other for months.

They are vying to replace Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is not seeking a third term.

In another statewide race, U.S. Maria Cantwell is seeking her third term and is expected to easily advance to the November ballot, along with Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. Voters also will choose candidates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, three state Supreme Court seats and dozens of legislative seats.

“I think this primary is one of the most interesting and potentially exciting we’ve had in years,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said.

Washington and three other states — Kansas, Michigan and Missouri — are holding primaries Tuesday.

All of Washington’s 3.7 million voters receive their ballots by mail, and will have to have them postmarked and in the mail by Tuesday or can drop them off at specialized boxes around the state by 8 p.m. Ballots were sent out last month.

Reed is predicting a 46 percent turnout. The average of the last six primaries in similar election years is 43 percent, and the highest primary turnout in recent years was 45.8 percent in 1992.

Under the state’s “top two” primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party.

All 10 congressional seats are on the ballot, but most eyes will be on the competitive 1st District. Voters for the newly redistricted seat — which runs from northern King County to the Canadian border — have five Democrats, one Republican and one independent to choose from.

Recent polls show Republican John Koster leading the pack and easily advancing to November. Democrat and political activist Darcy Burner was leading former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene in polls until recently, when DelBene, who has had TV ads on the air for about a month, took a slight lead for the second spot.

Other Democrats vying for the new 1st District two-year term are state Sen. Steve Hobbs; former state Rep. Laura Ruderman; and Bothell high-tech entrepreneur Darshan Rauniyar. Independent Larry Ishmael also is seeking to make it through the primary.

Voters in the old 1st District — which includes Kitsap County — also will vote in a special election for the final month of Inslee’s term. Many of the same candidates are in that race.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen faces five challengers: former Republican state Sen. Bill Finkbeiner; GOP Rep. Glenn Anderson; attorney James Robert Deal, who has no party affiliation; independent Mark Greene; and Dave T. Sumner IV, of the Neopopulist Party.

An open seat for Washington’s top election official also has attracted a crowd of high-profile candidates: Democrat Greg Nickels, a former Seattle mayor who gained a national profile for his environmental activism; Jim Kastama, a conservative Democratic state senator who was a key swing vote in state budget negotiations; Kim Wyman, Thurston County’s Republican auditor; and Kathleen Drew, a former state senator and former aide to Gregoire.

Auditor Brian Sonntag is retiring after 20 years, and the race to replace him is a wide-open affair between three Democratic lawmakers and a Republican businessman from Redmond. Seeking the rare open seat are Reps. Troy Kelley of Tacoma and Mark Miloscia of Federal Way; Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver; and business development consultant James Watkins of Redmond.

In some races, the primary will be 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, hopes to defeat four opponents by a large enough margin that he can advance to the general ballot unopposed.

— Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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