Denny Heck was leading the primary election to become Washington’s next lieutenant governor in ballot returns reported Tuesday night, and Marko Liias was in second place. Both are Democrats.
Heck, currently a U.S. representative, had 27.7% in the initial vote count, while Liias, currently a state senator, had 16.6%.
Nine other candidates, including Republicans Ann Sattler and Marty McClendon, trailed in the crowded statewide race. Sattler had 11.6% and McClendon had 10.8%.
More ballots will be counted in the coming days.
The top two vote-getters in the primary will advance to the Nov. 3 general election. Statewide general elections almost never pit candidates from the same party against each other, though two Republicans did compete for treasurer in 2016.
Now it appears Heck and Liias may face off. Theirs would be first such contest between Democrats, Liias said.
The race for lieutenant governor was thrown wide open when the incumbent, Cyrus Habib, announced he would join the Society of Jesus religious order rather than run for reelection.
Washington’s lieutenant governor, one of nine statewide elected officials, presides over the state Senate when the Legislature is in session.
The lieutenant governor also fills in when the governor travels out of state. Over the years, the role also has included a focus on international relations.
National politics have lent intrigue to this year’s race, because the winner would ascend to Washington’s top job were the governor to vacate that office. The lieutenant governor would serve as governor until a special election was held.
If Joe Biden becomes president, state politics watchers have wondered whether he might appoint Gov. Jay Inslee to a position in his federal administration. Inslee has said he would complete his third term were voters to reelect him.
Leading up to the primary, Heck said he wouldn’t run for governor in a special election, while Liias said he wouldn’t “rule it out or rule it in.”
Heck, who since 2013 has represented the Olympia area’s 10th Congressional District, previously served as a state lawmaker and as chief of staff for then-Gov. Booth Gardner.
The 68-year-old announced in December he wouldn’t run for a fifth term in Congress. In that statement, he condemned President Donald Trump’s “distant relationship with the truth.” He said his job had left him weary and discouraged.
But when Habib bowed out, Heck dove into the lieutenant governor’s race, vowing to protect the state’s government from D.C.-style dysfunction.
He far outraised his opponents in the primary, pulling in about $726,000 in contributions as of Tuesday, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).
Heck has been endorsed by former Lieutenant Gov. Brad Owen and former governors Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke, among others.
“We are so proud and humbled by the overwhelming support we’ve seen tonight from voters across Washington state,” Heck said in a statement Tuesday night.
“The results show that as Washington recovers from an historic economic crisis, voters want experienced leaders with values they can trust.”
Liias currently represents portions of Lynnwood and Everett, along with Mukilteo and Edmonds, and is the Senate Democratic floor leader.
In his campaign, the 38-year-old has described himself as the race’s most progressive candidate, from a party that’s moved to the left in recent years.
A state lawmaker since 2008, Liias has said he wants to use the lieutenant governor’s office as a platform to advocate for universal health care, equality for the LGBTQ community and “progressive tax reform.”
Liias also has said he would bring a new perspective because he’s a millennial and would be Washington’s first openly gay lieutenant governor.
Endorsed by Habib, he raised about $207,000 in the run-up to the primary , according to the PDC.
In an interview Tuesday night, Liias said he expects to gain ground on Heck in the coming days, thanks to support among younger voters who tend to submit ballots later.
“I think what the race will really hinge on is the generational change,” he said. “Congressman Heck represents those who led us to this point and I represent where we’re going.”
Sattler, a former executive for the Seattle SuperSonics and a former Democrat, switched parties after her experience running unsuccessfully for Seattle City Council last year.
Endorsed by many GOP lawmakers, former Gov. Dan Evans and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, the 52-year-oldpromised “political balance.”
McClendon, who works in real estate and hosts a conservative radio show, captured 45.6% of the vote when he ran against Habib in 2016.
In his second attempt, the 53-year-old Fox Island resident criticized Democrats in Olympia for raising taxes and passing a comprehensive sex-education law .