Seven months ago, our KING 5 poll showed Republican Rob McKenna with a 10-point advantage in the race for Washington state governor, and for most of the summer, the McKenna campaign Web site touted McKenna’s lead.
Today, with the election just seven weeks away, a new KING 5 poll shows Democrat Jay Inslee leading by five points, and the polling page on the McKenna site is gone.
National tide: There’s no doubt that the Presidential race can influence local campaigns, the only question is to what extent. Our poll, conducted by SurveyUSA, finds Democrat Barack Obama with a 16-point lead over Republican Mitt Romney in Washington state. The fact that the governor’s race is within 5 points suggests McKenna is bucking some of the national Democratic bounce. But a Romney-Ryan ticket more appealing to Washington voters would certainly help McKenna’s case.
The soft sell: Inslee overtook McKenna just before the August primary, spending a million dollars plus on 60-second TV commercials. While McKenna’s commercials were more fast-paced and featured his family talking about policy, Inslee’s commercial was more biographical, introducing his wife, kids and grandkids. Compared to our July poll, the percentage of Inslee’s supporters who described themselves as “enthusiastic” shot up from 58% to 77%. When asked, which candidate is more likeable personally, 43% of likely voters say Inslee, 30% told SurveyUSA they felt McKenna was more likeable.
Inslee chips away: This year’s election remains dominated by the economy. In July, McKenna had a double-digit advantage when voters were asked who would do a better job managing the state budget. In our latest poll, when we asked which candidate would be better at improving our state economy, it’s McKenna 44% vs. Inslee at 40%—within the margin of error.
Inslee maintains an advantage on social issues, with 48% saying he better reflects their positions, compared to 41% for McKenna. The Democrat also scores better among voters on the environment (49% to 24%).
McKenna’s strengths: McKenna has made education a big issue in his campaign and he’s keeping even with Inslee on this score, with voters split on which candidate would be stronger on education (39% to 38%). McKenna, with his campaign slogan “A new Direction for Washington,” is definitely perceived as the candidate would bring more change to Olympia, with 46% in our poll seeing McKenna as a change-agent, vs. 34% who say Inslee. But it’s unclear how much change voters really want. When asked if the state of Washington is headed in the right direction or the wrong direction, voters were evenly split—44% saying the right direction, 44% saying the wrong direction.
In addition, McKenna maintains a strong lead among those voters identifying themselves as independents—49% to Inslee’s 38%.
Still a good match: While the poll shows Inslee in the lead just outside the margin of error, make no mistake it’s still a close race. Both these candidates have very comparable favorable ratings (roughly 40%). McKenna leads in the more conservative counties of Eastern Washington, while polling in the low 40% range in Western Washington, which is just on the bubble of where a Republican has to be. Any swing in the national picture could definitely have an effect as the governor’s campaign enters the home stretch.