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March 23, 2011 at 2:58 PM

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Inslee says 'G word' got into donor letter by accident; continues to hit McKenna on health care

Posted by Jim Brunner

The smart early betting on Washington's 2012 governor's race has Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna squaring off against Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee.

Neither has declared yet -- they're waiting on Gov. Chris Gregoire to announce her own plans after the Legislature finishes up its work.

But Inslee got the Interwebs humming with fresh speculation recently after the Everett Herald's Jerry Cornfield obtained an Inslee fundraising letter which mentioned the 'G' word.

“We know it's early in the cycle, but the Congressman is trying to put some funds in the bank early for his Congressional race and also if there is an opening to run for Governor,” read the invitation for a March 20 fundraising event, Cornfield reported.

Meanwhile, Democrats have been trying to soften up McKenna by portraying him as too conservative for the state. This week the state Democratic Party put an ad in The Olympian trying to link McKenna with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union actions.

And Democrats have continued to hammer at McKenna's participation in a lawsuit seeking to repeal the landmark health-care reform law.

Wednesday morning, Inslee was hitting that theme with U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott at a Seattle media event to brag about the law's positive effects on its one-year anniversary.

Organizers brought out real-life examples, including breast cancer survivor Lisa Newell, of North Bend, who no longer has to worry about a lifetime cap on insurance benefits -- a limit she nearly reached while in the midst of chemotherapy.

Risa Blythe, the owner of Girlie Press, the print shop that hosted the press event, praised the law's tax credit that helps her afford good insurance for her nine employees.

Inslee attacked McKenna and Republicans in Congress for working to repeal the law. He held up a box he said contained the GOP's alternative plan, and opened it. "I'll be darned, it's empty," Inslee said.

McKenna has said he doesn't want to repeal the entire health-care law, just the looming "individual mandate" to buy health insurance, which he's said is an unconstitutional expansion of federal power. But the multi-state lawsuit McKenna joined explicitly does argue the whole law should be repealed.

Inslee said Republicans are being irresponsible if they claim to support more popular parts of the health-care law -- such as an end to lifetime benefit caps -- without "paying for it" with the individual mandate or other means.

"They don't have a bill that would do a single thing that we talked about today," said Inslee.

While he's talking increasingly like a candidate who will be debating McKenna in 2012, Inslee backed away from his own fundraising letter when I asked him about it Wednesday.

"The G-word snuck in there by accident," he said. "I am not a candidate for governor."

But Inslee repeated his previous statements that he'll take a good long look at it after Gregoire makes her plans known.

As for McKenna, he's been making the rounds of Republican Party gatherings in recent months as he too lays the groundwork for 2012. On Wednesday night, he'll be speaking at the King County Republicans Lincoln Day dinner in Bellevue, along with U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

Check back here for a report on that. (Or follow me on Twitter.)

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