King County Executive Dow Constantine, seeking his fourth term, is cruising toward the general election, as he led Tuesday night with 53% of the primary vote.
Constantine will likely face his first serious, well-funded challenger in more than a decade, as state Sen. Joe Nguyen also looked sure to advance, capturing 30% of the votes counted Tuesday.
It would be a matchup between two progressive Democrats.
“The fact that my nearest opponent was held to below 30% means we have a real bright spot here, a clear path to victory in November,” Constantine said on election night.
Although he trailed by more than 20 percentage points, Nguyen said his vote total showed “undeniable strength.”
“Our political system isn’t set up for a son of refugees who grew up in public housing and worked as a janitor at his own high school to succeed, but the support we’ve received tonight proves that people are tired of the status quo,” he said.
Constantine touts his stewardship of Sound Transit 3, the county’s robust response to the COVID-19 crisis and the county’s recent transformation of a half-dozen hotels into homeless shelters.
Nguyen says the county needs new leadership and a new sense of urgency to deal with the overlapping homelessness, COVID-19 and climate crises.
He wants to make public transit free, impose a wealth tax on the county’s richest residents and immediately close the county’s new youth jail and justice center.
Constantine says the county is beginning to turn the tide on homelessness, with federal aid, a new 0.1% portion of the sales tax directed at solutions and the newly created Regional Homelessness Authority allowing them to expand and coordinate shelter options in new ways.
Nguyen says the county needs a more proactive leader; Constantine says the county needs someone who’s been able to turn ideas into actual policy.
Constantine has significantly out-fundraised Nguyen, bringing in about $1.6 million, compared to about $175,000.
Three other candidates on the primary ballot raised no money for their campaigns. Johnathon Crines, a security guard, received 2% of the primary night vote; Bill Hirt, a Sound Transit critic, received 12%, and Goodspaceguy, a perennial candidate, received 3%.
The top two candidates move on to the general election in November.
The King County executive oversees a more than $6 billion annual budget (larger than Seattle’s) and governs the 12th largest county in the nation. But in recent years, it has drawn little interest. Constantine, a lawyer, was first elected in 2009, after a dozen years in the state Legislature and on the County Council. He filled an open seat vacated when then-Executive Ron Sims stepped down to join the Obama administration.
But since then, in two reelection campaigns, he has not drawn a single serious challenger.
Nguyen, a program manager at Microsoft, was elected to the state Senate in 2018, beating a better-known, better-funded candidate, and is in his first term. He will remain in the state Senate if he loses his race for county executive.
Born to Vietnamese refugee parents, he has stressed the importance of electing officials with “lived experience” and talks about how his life — growing up in an immigrant family, caring for his father who was paralyzed in a car crash — has influenced his policymaking.
The next executive will oversee public transit, parks, environmental protection and economic recovery from Shoreline south to Federal Way, and east to Snoqualmie Pass and Skykomish. The executive will also, for the first time in a quarter-century, appoint a sheriff to lead law enforcement in the county, after voters chose last year to move from an elected sheriff to one appointed by the executive and approved by the County Council.
Both Constantine and Nguyen have signaled they would not retain current Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht after her term expires early next year.
Constantine has collected the bulk of labor-union endorsements, including the MLK Labor Council. He’s endorsed by Washington’s last three governors: Jay Inslee, Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke.
Nguyen has the endorsement of several of his legislative colleagues, including South Seattle lawmakers state Sen. Bob Hasegawa and Reps. David Hackney and Kirsten Harris-Talley.