The top candidates for governor are doing their best to downplay their chances in Tuesday's primary election, where voters also will narrow the field in competitive congressional, statewide and legislative races.

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The top candidates for governor are doing their best to downplay their chances in Tuesday’s primary election, where voters also will narrow the field in competitive congressional, statewide and legislative races.

Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee are safe bets to make it through the gubernatorial primary. But both campaigns say their opponent likely will do better on Tuesday, leaving room for bragging, regardless of which one comes out ahead.

While the significance of the vote in the governor’s race is debatable, the election clearly matters for many other candidates.

There are several hard-fought races on the ballot, including open seats for state auditor and secretary of state, as well as in the 1st, 6th, and newly created 10th congressional districts.

In addition, the election will decide two big levies on the ballot: one to fund Seattle libraries and another to build a new King County juvenile-justice center.

Overall, more than 90 people are vying for statewide and congressional offices alone, not to mention an army of candidates running for the Legislature, state Supreme Court and various appeals and Superior Court judge positions.

“We have such interesting races … I think we’re going to see better voter turnout than normal,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said.

Reed is predicting 46 percent of registered voters will participate in the all-mail ballot election, although his office noted returns are slow so far. In 2008, the last presidential-year primary, nearly 43 percent of voters returned their ballots.

This year’s primary is earlier than ever, making it difficult for candidates to get the attention of voters during the height of summer and vacation season.

In 2008, the state moved the September primary, which had been the norm for decades, to the third Tuesday in August. But this year, it was moved to the first Tuesday to ensure those serving in the military and living overseas have plenty of time to get their November ballots and return them by general election day.

Washington’s primary advances the top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of party, which can sometimes put two candidates from the same party on the ballot. That will be the case in a dozen legislative races this election, where there are multiple candidates all from the same party.

Judicial contests and the superintendent of public instruction are exceptions to the top-two rule. In those nonpartisan races, any candidate who gets a majority of the vote in the primary wins the seat.

This year, the race between Justice Steve Gonzalez and challenger Bruce Danielson will essentially be decided Tuesday. The winner will advance unopposed to the November ballot.

Tough contest

One of the fiercest primary battles is being waged in the 1st Congressional District seat, where seven people are vying for Inslee’s old seat.

The district — which runs from northern King County to the Canadian border — has five Democrats, one Republican and one independent on the ballot. A recent SurveyUSA poll indicates Republican John Koster is likely to advance to the November election, leaving the Democrats to fight over who will face him.

Former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene, who has poured more than $2.3 million of her own money into her campaign, and progressive activist Darcy Burner have been the leading Democrats in the polls.

In the 6th Congressional District, which stretches north from Tacoma through Kitsap County, and west through the Olympic Peninsula, Democratic state Sen. Derek Kilmer and Republican Bill Driscoll, a Weyerhaeuser heir, hold commanding fundraising leads among a field of seven candidates.

Federal Election Commission reports show each has raised around $900,000, dwarfing the competition in the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.

And in the newly created 10th Congressional District, Democratic candidate Denny Heck, the co-founder of TVW (the public-affairs network for the state), has raised more than $1 million while Republican Stan Flemming has raised more than $240,000 and Republican Richard Muri has raised around $170,000, according to the FEC. Both Flemming and Muri are Pierce County Council members.

Incumbents in the 2nd, 8th and 9th congressional districts face lightly financed opponents, while Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, is being challenged within his own party by newcomer and tax lawyer Andrew Hughes, among other rivals.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell is opposed by seven challengers, including Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane.

The most competitive primaries for statewide office include the secretary of state and state auditor races.

In the secretary of state race, three Democrats are running to replace Reed, who is retiring — former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels; Kathleen Drew, a former state senator; and Jim Kastama, a conservative state senator who irked his own party by helping Republicans take over budget negotiations earlier this year.

Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman is running as a Republican for the seat. All the candidates have raised more than $100,000 except for Kastama, who has pulled in around $67,000. Three other candidates are on the ballot, but they have raised little to no money.

In the state auditor race, state Sen. Craig Pridemore and state Reps. Troy Kelley and Mark Miloscia are running as Democrats. Kelley has raised around $350,000, most of it is his own money. Pridemore has raised around $160,000 and Miloscia around $65,000. Business consultant James Watkins, a Republican, has raised around $67,000.

Inslee, McKenna

It’s assumed McKenna and Inslee, who have each raised more than $7 million, will emerge as the top two contenders for governor out of a field of nine candidates.

However, McKenna’s campaign manager, Randy Pepple, downplayed their chances of pulling in more votes than Inslee.

“My view of it is, Inslee is going to have the most votes, probably high 40s. Rob will be second. It could be as low as the high 30s,” Pepple said.

He contends there will be a larger turnout by Democrats and that Shahram Hadian, a pastor from Everett, likely will pull 5 to 8 percent of the vote.

Hadian, who has raised around $100,000, is running as the more conservative choice for Republicans.

Inslee’s campaign, on the other hand, has the opposite prediction.

“The reality of the primary is that the electorate is smaller and substantially more conservative than the general electorate,” a memo sent out by the campaign states.

“The bottom line is that while November elections make Washington a blue state, August looks more like a Republican primary,” the memo continued. “The best conceivable GOTV (get out the vote) effort simply won’t increase turnout enough to put Jay in first place in the primary.”

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com. Material from The Seattle Times archives and news services was used in this story.