OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — This has been the year of big names and big money for Washington’s election.

A record $157 million has poured into state-level races, with six and seven-figure chunks coming from the likes of Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, actor Brad Pitt, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, travel guru Rick Steves and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.

The result has been a steady stream of television advertising, trying to sway voters who are also paying attention to a close presidential race nationally. Those voters will finally have their say when ballots start getting counted Tuesday.

At the top of the state ballot, Washington residents will decide who will replace departing Gov. Chris Gregoire. Republican Rob McKenna is seeking to secure the first GOP victory in the race since 1980, while Democrat Jay Inslee is looking to make the transition from Congress back to a governor’s seat he first sought in 1996.

The candidates and outside groups have spent some $40 million on the contest. A Washington Poll this past week suggests the race is close and one of the nation’s most competitive.

McKenna is up among independents by 20 points, grabbing blocs of people who are also voting for President Barack Obama, according to the Washington Poll. Inslee is strong among people who have already voted and in the population-rich Puget Sound area.

“There’s plenty of encouraging and also worrying news for both candidates,” said Matt Barreto, director of the Washington Poll.

Major ballot measures are also drawing attention to the election, as Washington could become the first state on Tuesday to legalize gay marriage by way of a public vote and could be the first state to approve a law that would tax and regulate marijuana.

The gay marriage referendum has drawn some $12 million in support, with money from Pitt, Bloomberg and Bezos. That far exceeds the amount raised by opponents — $2.6 million.

Last week’s Washington week showed that likely voters are leaning toward approving gay marriage by a 58-37 margin. However, political observers caution that polls on the gay marriage issue have previously overstated the level of support, so supporters remain cautious.

That’s a point of consideration for the political group Washington United for Marriage, which supports the state’s gay marriage law. The group’s campaign manager, Zach Silk, said gay marriage opponents have experience at running their campaigns and how to present their message, especially through its network of churches.

So, while same-sex marriage supporters are optimistic with the poll numbers, they are also cautious

“We’ve always felt like the underdog,” Silk said. “We still do today.”

Two other states — Maryland and Maine — are also voting on whether to legalize gay marriage. A public vote has never approved same-sex marriage.

Advocates for charter schools have previously failed at the polls in Washington state, but this year supporters have substantial financial backing from the likes of Gates and Allen. Supporters in that campaign also have a wide financial edge, with about $11 million in favor and $700,000 opposed.

The measure would create as many as 40 charter schools in the coming years.

Washington’s marijuana initiative would set up a system of licensed growers, processors and retail stores. Oregon and Colorado are also considering measures that would approve marijuana for recreational use.

Other state races include legislative campaigns that will determine control of the state Senate and votes to replace departing leaders in the secretary of state’s office and auditor.

At the federal level, polls suggest that U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell will comfortably win re-election. Both political parties are closely watching the states 1st District congressional race between Democrat Suzan DelBene and Republican John Koster, as that campaign is seen as the most competitive.

That 1st District campaign has also been expensive, with about $5 million raised.

— Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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