On Monday, Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag announced that he won't run for governor, leaving only presumed front-runners Rep. Jay Inslee (D) and Attorney General Rob McKenna (R) competing for the mansion at this early stage.
But don't expect that dynamic to last, says UW political-science professor Matt Barreto. Late additions to the gubernatorial race could make it one of the closest in years. The same, however, apparently can't be said for the other major elections.
"I think this has the potential to be a very interesting election year in Washington," says Barreto. "I think in the presidential election Obama will win handily, [Maria] Cantwell could end up winning by 15 points, and the governor's race will come down to the wire."
Barreto says that Sonntag's sitting out the race will likely benefit Inslee, even though Sonntag as a moderate Dem would have likely pulled votes from McKenna.
He still sees plenty of opportunity for well-known legislators ("Look to the party leadership," Baretto says) to make runs--in other words, folks like Sen. Lisa Brown (D-Spokane), Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla), and Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) to clarify their intentions soon.
UW's Matt A. Barreto says the 2012 Gov's race will likely come down to the wire.
A bitter primary fight is most likely in the Republican party, Baretto says, where Tea Party-juiced ideologues may do some serious damage to moderates like McKenna.
But Democrats don't have it easy either. Forget about the nationwide electoral boner that Democrats and independents had for Barack Obama in 2008, Barreto says. This time around, Dems will have to scrape for every vote they get.
"In 2008 Gregoire had a pretty sizable win, thanks to the huge pro-Obama vote," Barreto says. "Obama is likely to be elected by a big margin, but he's unlikely to have that kind of enthusiasm. And if there's not a big enthusiasm vote for Obama, McKenna could eke out a win."
When it comes to the lone Senator's race and the handful of Congressional matchups, don't expect too much excitement, though. Sen. Maria Cantwell is a lock, Baretto says, and entrenched congressman like Dave Reichert and Jim McDermott should be safe as well.
Of course, picking winners for an election 16 months away is hardly an exact science. And Barreto says much can change between now and next November.
Not that that's ever stopped us from speculating.