Congressman Dave Reichert will not run for governor in 2016, leaving Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant as the leading Republican challenger to Gov. Jay Inslee.

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Congressman Dave Reichert will not run for governor in 2016, eliminating the Republican Party’s highest-profile potential challenger to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

Instead, Reichert will seek re-election to his 8th District congressional seat.

Reichert made the announcement in an email Friday, finally putting an end to months of speculation the former King County sheriff might jump in to take on Inslee.

“Like so many of you, I have been extremely disappointed in the decisions coming out of the governor’s office … ” Reichert said. “Yet, I believe I can better serve you now, today, in another Washington where politicians are more interested in fighting each other than fighting for America; where leadership has been in retreat, and courage has been on recess.”

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In what has become an every-couple-years ritual, Reichert, R-Auburn, had been telling reporters he was keeping his options open and considering a possible bid for governor or U.S. Senate next year.

Some Republican operatives had said Reichert appeared more serious this time than in the past, looking at polling and seeking advice.

But in the end, Reichert again shied away from the statewide contest in favor of a safer congressional campaign.

The six-term Republican has a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and was recently tapped to lead the House GOP’s efforts on policing reforms.

“I am in a unique position to work with both Democrats and Republicans on some of the most important issues facing this nation and Washington state,” Reichert said, citing tax reform and free trade.

Reichert’s decision follows similar announcements from state Sens. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, and Andy Hill, R-Redmond, who also plan to run for re-election instead of governor.

That clears the way for Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant to be the GOP’s presumptive leading challenger for Inslee next year. Many Republican leaders were not waiting for Reichert and had already endorsed Bryant — including former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and former Gov. Dan Evans.

State Republican Party chair Susan Hutchison said in a statement that Bryant “is running a strong campaign for governor, meeting voters across the state and building support to replace the governor who can’t govern, Jay Inslee.”

But Democrats crowed at what they called a “recruiting failure” by the GOP.

“Now the Republicans are left with little-known Bill Bryant, after every other Republican approached to run turned down the offer,” said state Democratic Party chair Jaxon Ravens in a statement to reporters. “Bryant has run a listless campaign that has gained no traction and has burned through money.”

Bryant, who announced his campaign in May, has been traveling the state on a series of “Beers with Bill” chats with voters. He has raised about $620,000 for his campaign. Inslee has raised $2.6 million.

In an interview Friday, Bryant said his campaign had not been affected by Reichert’s months of indecision. “We had our plan and we were executing it,” he said.

Bryant cited his port background and business experience as owner of a company that helps agricultural businesses sell their products overseas. “That puts me in a different category than just about everybody else who has ever run for governor,” he said.

But Bryant will face long odds. A Republican hasn’t been elected governor of Washington since John Spellman in 1980.

That 35-year gubernatorial losing streak is the longest in the country for the GOP.