OLYMPIA, Wash. — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has become the first incumbent elected to a third term in Washington state in more than 40 years, beating Republican challenger Loren Culp,
Inslee, who briefly ran for president last year, has been a frequent critic of Republican President Donald Trump, especially his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Culp, police chief of the small town of Republic, campaigned in part against Inslee’s coronavirus restrictions like mandatory masks, saying they infringe on people’s constitutional rights.
In initial results posted by the state’s 39 counties, Inslee had about 60% of the vote.
Inslee said that the results were not only a huge honour but “a big decision that the people of the state Washington made tonight.”
“They made a decision to continue on the path of progress, to continue to follow and honour science, to continue to defeat the covid pandemic and continue to be committed to building a more resilient economy,” he said.
Speaking to supporter in Tenino, Culp refused to concede.
“We are going to wait until these people have their voices heard,’’ Culp said of the ballots that remained to be counted.
Governors in Washington state aren’t subject to term limits, though most haven’t served more than two terms. The last three-term governor in Washington was Republican Gov. Dan Evans, who served from 1965 until 1977.
Inslee had faced 35 challengers in the August primary, and received just over 50% of the vote, with Culp coming in second with more than 17%.
Inslee is a former congressman and served as Democratic Governors Association chairman in 2018. His six-month run for president last year focused on climate change, an issue that has been central to his two terms as governor.
Culp got national attention after saying he wouldn’t enforce gun regulations approved by voters in a 2018 initiative. He later wrote the book “American Cop: Upholding the Constitution and Defending Your Right to Bear Arms.”
Since Inslee, 69, announced his decision to run for reelection last summer, he’s been confronted with a series of challenges, including the first known U.S. coronavirus case announced here in January and a state economy rocked by the ensuing pandemic.
There have also been frequent skirmishes between police and protesters during months of demonstrations against police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and wildfires that affected both Eastern and Western Washington. And last month, Boeing announced it will consolidate production of its two-aisle 787 jetliner in South Carolina and shut down the original assembly line for the plane in Everett.
The only debate between the two candidates was held last month, and due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the candidates participated in the televised debate from separate rooms at the Olympia headquarters of TVW, the state’s government affairs channel.
As of this week, there have been more than 110,000 confirmed cases in Washington since the pandemic began, and 2,400 people have died. For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Washington voters weighed in on other races, including more than 60% voting in favour of Democratic former Vice-President Joe Biden over Republican President Donald Trump.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who is retiring from Congress, was leading fellow Democratic Sen. Marko Liias with 47% of the vote. They are vying to succeed current Democratic Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who started unpaid leave in September as he started training in California to be a Jesuit priest.
All 10 of the state’s U.S. House seats are on the ballot, but Heck’s 10th Congressional District seat is the only one without an incumbent seeking another two-year term. Democrats currently hold seven of the state’s congressional seats, and Republicans hold three.
In the 10th congressional district, former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland was leading state Rep. Beth Doglio with just over 50% of the vote.
In addition to governor and lieutenant governor, voters were deciding seven other statewide elected offices, and the Democratic incumbents in the offices of attorney general, auditor, insurance commissioner and lands commissioner were all easily leading their Republican challengers. In the nonpartisan race for the Superintendent of Public Instruction, incumbent Chris Reykdal — who received just 40% of the vote in the August primary — was beating Maia Espinoza with nearly 57% of the vote.
In the only two statewide positions held by Republicans, incumbent Secretary of State Kim Wyman was leading Democratic state Rep. Gael Tarleton with nearly 52% of the vote and incumbent Treasurer Duane Davidson was losing to Democratic state Rep. Mike Pellicciotti, who had captured nearly 56% of the vote in early returns.
In the only referendum on the ballot, voters also approved a measure passed by the Legislature this year that requires public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education for all students. It marks the first time in the U.S. that voters weighed in on sex ed.
All 98 state House seats and 26 of the Senate’s 49 seats are being decided by voters as well. Accounting for a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, Democrats hold a 28-21 majority in the Senate and a 57-41 edge in the House.
Elections officials were expecting record turnout that could surpass the previous record of 84.6% in 2008. Voters returned their ballots earlier than in previous years, with many of the states 39 counties posting results Tuesday night in the 70-80% range. The largest counties will be updating results with remaining ballots daily throughout the week. Counties with a population of less than 75,000 are required to report at least every three days.
AP reporter Nicholas K. Geranios contributed from Spokane, Wash.
Rachel La Corte, The Associated Press