State voters favor Obama, McKenna in poll
Although deeply unhappy with the direction of the country, Washington voters continue to back President Obama over his two chief Republican rivals, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, a new poll shows. Yet the state's Democratic-tilting electorate is flirting with electing a Republican governor for the first time in three decades.
Seattle Times political reporter
Although deeply unhappy with the direction of the country, Washington voters continue to back President Obama over his two chief Republican rivals, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, a new statewide poll shows.
Yet the state's Democratic-tilting electorate is flirting with the notion of electing a Republican governor for the first time in three decades, the poll suggests.
More than a year out from the 2012 election, the poll shows Obama beating Perry, the Texas governor, 51-37. Against Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, Obama is up 49-40.
The president captured almost 58 percent of the Washington vote in 2008.
In the state's closely watched gubernatorial race, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna picks up 46 percent support in the poll, to Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee's 39 percent.
The telephone poll of 500 likely voters was conducted last week by Strategies 360, a Seattle public-affairs and lobbying firm founded by Democratic political operative Ron Dotzauer (the firm employs both Democrats and Republicans). The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Overall, the poll confirms the early expectations of national political observers: Washington will likely back Obama for re-election, but our 2012 gubernatorial race is shaping up to be one of the nation's most competitive.
Washington, like the rest of the country, is feeling pessimistic about the state of the nation and the economy.
Just 23 percent of those surveyed said they think the United States is on the right track, and 49 percent said they approve of the job Obama is doing as president. Still, both numbers are higher than the national averages.
And the president's lukewarm approval here looks Space Needle-high when compared with voters' views of Congress, which reached only 14 percent approval. (Congressional Republicans were viewed negatively by 70 percent, compared with 59 percent for congressional Democrats.)
Obama continues to enjoy broad support from college-educated voters and women in Washington, but his popularity has waned among blue-collar voters, according to the poll.
"The Obama coalition has frayed a bit, but here in Washington, people who were behind him in 2008 are still mostly with him," said Kevin Ingham, vice president of polling and research at Strategies 360.
In the race for governor, McKenna holds an early lead, buttressed by a 46-30 percent lead over Inslee among independents.
"You are starting to see that McKenna has crossover appeal," said Ingham, pointing to the 18 percent of those who supported Obama in 2008, yet said they backed McKenna in the poll.
Ingham noted McKenna's advantage is largely attributable to the fact that more voters are familiar with McKenna as a statewide elected official since 2005.
Among voters who said they knew both gubernatorial candidates, the race was virtually even, with Inslee up by 1 percent.
Inslee, the seven-term congressman from the 1st Congressional District north of Seattle, has plenty of room to grow his numbers as he gets to know voters elsewhere.
"As voters become more familiar with the candidates here, what you are likely to see is this race really tighten up," Ingham said. Still, he called Inslee's 16-point deficit among independents "a really tough place to be, even this far out from the election."
Democrats are well aware of that and have already begun trying to tear down McKenna's reputation as a moderate Republican by trying to link him to the conservative tea-party movement.
But so far, Ingham said, "it doesn't appear to me that voters pin him (McKenna) as the tea party-Republican type."
Still it's a smart strategy for Democrats, Ingham noted, because the tea party is unpopular in the state. The poll found 52 percent of voters — including many independents — had an unfavorable view of the tea party. Just 30 percent viewed the movement favorably.
Randy Pepple, McKenna's campaign manager, said the poll results confirm McKenna's history of appealing to independents. "Voters have seen Rob at work as attorney general, they've seen what he can do and they're comfortable with that," Pepple said.
Jaime Smith, an Inslee campaign spokeswoman, said their campaign was encouraged by the finding that Inslee leads slightly among people who are familiar with both candidates.
"We'll be spending a lot of time over the next year and a half making sure people get to meet Jay and learn about his plans to get our economy back on track," she said.
Other highlights of the poll:
• When it comes to closing the state's latest $1.4 billion budget gap, the poll showed support for a balanced approach, with 44 percent saying the gap should be closed "equally with spending cuts and tax increases." But 40 percent said it should be done mostly or all with spending cuts, compared with 11 percent who favored mostly or all tax increases.
• A majority express support for gay marriage, with 54 percent saying it should be legalized and 35 percent opposed (12 percent were undecided or declined to answer). Democrats in the Legislature are considering a push in the next session to legalize gay marriage.
• Voters are evenly divided on legalization of marijuana, with 46 percent in favor and 46 percent against. However, 70 percent support taxing the legal sale of medical marijuana.
• Two initiatives headed to the November ballot have early leads. A Tim Eyman-sponsored measure that would restrict the use of transportation tolls leads 50-31 percent. A Costco-backed plan to privatize liquor sales is up 51-44 percent. (Because fewer of those in the poll said they were likely to vote in the 2011 election, the numbers for those initiatives have a slightly higher margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.)
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com
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