Inslee confident his Wash. lead will hold

Inslee confident his Wash. lead will hold
Gubernatorial candidate Democrat Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference at his campaign headquarters Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Democrat Jay Inslee expressed confidence Wednesday that his early lead in Washington's race for governor would hold as he began setting up a transition team that would help him prepare to take office in January.

Inslee stopped short of declaring victory over Republican Rob McKenna, acknowledging that the election's final result may not be known until the end of this week. Inslee held a promising advantage after nearly 2 million votes were counted Tuesday, carrying 51 percent of ballots.

"I'm just getting ready to lead the state of Washington," he said.

Election officials estimate that hundreds of thousands of votes are left to count, with substantial updates expected to be released Wednesday afternoon and evening.

McKenna spokesman Charles McCray said their campaign is waiting to see the new numbers and was working to notify voters whose ballots were challenged due to mismatched signatures or other issues.

McKenna aides still expected that the Republican would ultimately win.

Washington is used to close governor's races. Most notably, Gov. Chris Gregoire won the 2004 contest by a mere 133 votes after two recounts and a court challenge.

Inslee's lead headlined broad victories for Democrats in Washington. The party easily kept control of a contested U.S. Senate seat while adding a new seat in the U.S. House. At the state level, they trailed in only one statewide race — secretary of state — but even that contest was too close to call.

Democrats had also endorsed a plan to legalize marijuana for recreational use, which passed, and a gay marriage measure, which was leading.

Republicans had hoped McKenna would provide fresh strength to a party that had gone 30 years without winning the governor's seat. Both sides poured millions of dollars into the race and polls had shown the candidates running about even.

McKenna built a moderate campaign platform around ways to increase funding for education, and he won the endorsement of 11 out of the 12 daily newspapers in the state along with some Democrats such as popular State Auditor Brian Sonntag. McKenna has worked the past eight years as the state's attorney general.

Inslee, a former congressman, first ran for governor in 1996 but lost to eventual Gov. Gary Locke. He focused his message on ways to grow the economy, vowing to focus state investments in certain industries, such as clean energy and life sciences.

Both candidates have vowed not to raise taxes.

Voters again made clear this year that they opposed taxes, re-approving a measure that requires lawmakers to have a two-thirds majority in order to raise taxes. And in two advisory votes, voters disapproved of efforts that increased taxes, including a proposal passed by the Legislature that repealed a tax exemption for out-of-state banks.