Campaigns react to one of first polls in the 2024 state governor’s race

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

New polling in the 2024 governor’s race indicates that Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz and state Sen. Mark Mullet both have a lot of work to do winning over voters if they want to be competitive against their fellow Democrat and frontrunner, Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Republican contender Raul Garcia, meanwhile, had a relatively strong showing in the survey as the second most popular candidate. Ferguson and Garcia both touted the results, as Franz’s campaign downplayed the findings. And Mullet’s team even suggested Ferguson’s performance was lackluster given his high political profile. The Northwest Progressive Institute worked with Public Policy Polling to conduct the poll, which included landline and text responses from 773 likely voters in next year’s general election. (See more details on the NPI website here.)

The candidates are running to replace Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat not seeking reelection. While the results offer hints of how the race could go, it’s quite early to be making predictions. The primary is still about 14 months away and many voters either haven’t tuned in yet or are still learning about the candidates. In fact, a third of respondents said they are undecided.

Still, the poll shows Ferguson, now in his third term as the state’s top lawyer, enjoying a wide advantage with 25% of respondents supporting him. Next was Garcia, an emergency medicine physician who lives in Yakima, with 17%. He was followed by Semi Bird, a Richland School Board member and military veteran, favored by 10% of the potential voters. Franz, with 9%, and Mullet, at 7% rounded out the field. The poll was done June 7-8 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Ferguson flagged the results Friday when making a pitch on Twitter to voters to donate to his already plump campaign fund. “We start off this race in a strong position. But it’s going to take resources to get our message out to 33% of undecided voters,” he tweeted. “And a strong early lead makes us a target for dark money Super PACs. If you’re with us, can you chip in $5, $10, or $25 today?”

Wellesley Daniels, Ferguson’s campaign manager, emailed that the “numbers are encouraging, especially our strength with independent voters. But we are not taking anything for granted.”

Mullet’s campaign manager, Liz Hall, offered a somewhat different take. “The race is wide open, with no clear frontrunner and a very high share of undecided voters. Currently, the top vote-getter is ‘undecided,’” Hall said in a statement. “While Bob Ferguson has been elected three times to statewide office and has been gearing up for a campaign for years, he only holds 25 percent of the vote.”

And Jack Sorensen, who works on the Franz campaign, cast some doubt on how meaningful the results are given that they come so far from the election.

“We are 14 months away from anyone marking a bubble next to anyone’s name, so at this point, this is largely an exercise of name identification,” he said. “Voters haven’t had a chance to hear from candidates yet. The biggest takeaway is that the frontrunner in this poll is undecided voters.”

The shape of the race is such that Franz and Mullet would probably need to draw support from more moderate Democrats or some Republicans to make it through the top-two primary–where all of the candidates for governor will compete with one another and the top two advance. Whether either can carve out a middle lane along these lines as they spend more time with voters is an open question.

But Andrew Villeneuve, executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, said by phone that the poll doesn’t bode well for Franz and Mullet on this front. “I think they’re both stuck,” he said.

In positioning themselves so far, Franz has highlighted the time she has spent working across the state, including in rural communities that are more inclined to back Republicans. Mullet, meanwhile, has staked out a platform that includes liberal positions on many social policies, but also skepticism toward taxes and a willingness to make the state friendlier to businesses.

Villeneuve’s write-up of the results called Garcia “the other winner” and said that while he didn’t get far with a 2020 campaign for governor, this time around his “candidacy seems to be resonating.”

“It is noteworthy that Garcia has about three times the amount of support among independent voters that Mullet does at this point,” Villeneuve added. He noted, too, that Republican and independent voters appear to prefer Garcia over Semi Bird, who has been in the race longer and has raised more money.

Garcia said he was pleased with the poll results and sees them as a sign his campaign is gaining traction. “Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. We’re eight points behind,” he said in a brief interview on Friday. “We have our work cut out for us. We’re gonna work hard. But this gives us energy.”

Bird’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The odds are long any Republican can eke out a win in the race, as the state’s electorate in recent years has steadily leaned Democratic. Washington’s last GOP governor, John Spellman, left office in January 1985 and Democrats have held the position ever since.

— By Bill Lucia/Washington State Standard


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