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Originally published Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 9:06 PM

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Primary to determine one State Supreme Court race

State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez faces one little-known challenger in the Aug. 1 primary, while Justice Susan Owens has two rivals in her re-election bid.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Washington voters will face more than a dozen statewide contests on their ballots this election season.

But only one — the race between state Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez and his little-known challenger, Bruce Danielson — will definitely be decided in the Aug. 7 primary.

Washington's "top two" primary system generally means that the two candidates with the most votes in the primary go on to the general election in November. But Supreme Court elections are an exception to the rule — any candidate who gets a majority of the vote in the primary wins the seat.

That means races with only two candidates, like Gonzalez's, are almost certain to be decided in the primary.

Gonzalez, 48, a former King County Superior Court judge, was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the state Supreme Court in November after Justice Gerry Alexander reached the state's mandatory retirement age.

He is one of two current Supreme Court justices on the ballot, along with Justice Susan Owens. But Owens, 62, is facing two challengers for her seat, and her race will not be decided next month unless she — or one of the other candidates — can eke out a majority of the vote.

Gonzalez, who has racked up newspaper and judicial endorsements and raised nearly $300,000 in campaign contributions, looks to be the favorite in his race. He's a former assistant U.S. attorney and Seattle prosecutor and spent 10 years as a Superior Court judge.

Danielson, 59, has raised no money and, according to Gonzalez, has failed to show up at any of the 16 or so candidate forums held around the state. The King County Bar Association rated Gonzalez "exceptionally well qualified," Danielson received a "refused to cooperate."

But Gonzalez worries that his ethnicity may pose a stumbling block on voting day.

"The pollsters say that people will favor his name over mine," Gonzalez said.

Matt Barreto, a political-science professor at the University of Washington who has studied the issue, said research in other states "far and away shows that when Hispanic candidates run, they get less support than they would if they were not Hispanic."

Gonzalez is also concerned that voters will have less information on which to base their decision than in previous years. In 2004 and 2008, the state mailed out a Voter's Guide for the primaries, but the guide will appear only online this year due to budget cuts. (Several counties, including King, Snohomish and Pierce, will mail their own.)

That's unlikely to make much difference in the race, though, said Chris Bonneau, a political-science professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies judicial elections. While people seem to like voter guides, he said, "there's no evidence they have any effect on the results."

Danielson, a Port Orchard trial lawyer who has been practicing for nearly three decades, did not return multiple requests through his office for comment. In his statement in the Secretary of State's online voter guide, Danielson said, "Voters should not settle for a judge who has been appointed by the most partisan office of the state."

Owens, the other Supreme Court justice running for re-election, is facing two challengers, Scott Stafne and Douglas McQuaid. Neither has raised any money, according to Public Disclosure Commission records.

Owens, a former District Court judge in Clallam County who was first elected in 2000, was rated "well qualified" by the King County Bar Association. Stafne was rated "not qualified, while McQuaid "refused to cooperate."

McQuaid, 67, a Seattle lawyer, was found guilty of reckless driving in 1990 and of drunken driving in 2001, according to court records. McQuaid said he went to a treatment program after the DUI arrest and no longer drinks alcohol.

In an interview, he criticized the Supreme Court for, among other things, hearing cases on voter referendums in recent years, which he said thwarted the will of the voters. He also touted the fact that he has lived in Washington for his entire life, while Owens moved to the state in the 1970s.

"She's a carpetbagger as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Stafne, meanwhile, criticized the court for its judicial activism and, along with McQuaid, emphasized the need for fresh faces on the bench.

"We're both saying the same thing," said Stafne, 63, who has a law practice in Arlington. "The system isn't working."

Owens is not overly concerned about the challengers in her race or Gonzalez's, she said — a sentiment that seemed to be echoed in the Seattle legal community.

"My sense is that everyone will be very surprised if Danielson wins," said Justin Walsh, a lawyer at Floyd, Pflueger & Ringer.

Theodoric Meyer: 206.464.2985 or tmeyer@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @theodoricmeyer.

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