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Originally published Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 3:54 PM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

An early look at the state's election season of 2012

Election 2010 is now in the rearview mirror, so time to look ahead to 2012, which will be another expensive, hard-fought election season in Washington state.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

Some people see billowy outlines of ghostly creatures from the past. I see clear silhouettes of politicians planning for the future — 2012 to be exact.

In the worst-kept secret in state politics, Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna is preparing to run for governor in two years, whether or not current Gov. Chris Gregoire seeks a third term. The betting is she won't, although it helps her nada to say that now. It's also too early for McKenna to become an official candidate. But count on it; he will be there.

McKenna, as some of his friends joke, hasn't made a big mistake since he was 6, and he didn't in his recent meeting with Times editorial writers. McKenna came in ostensibly to talk about his 2011 legislative agenda, which is heavily focused on anti-gang legislation that would help communities like Yakima, Spokane and Seattle.

But he was here to schmooze, too. He was asked what he learned from the recent campaign of senatorial wannabe Dino Rossi, the Republican trounced in King and other Puget Sound counties, and, ultimately, statewide, by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

Gov.-in-waiting McKenna, ever careful, said Rossi should have broadened his campaign talk to include education. You can't win in the suburbs, he said, without discussing this important matter. He is correct. Rossi said little that resonates with many King County and other Puget Sound voters.

McKenna also should talk about his fairly moderate views on abortion — he personally opposes it but does not think government should restrict a woman's basic right to choose — not because this is the biggest issue during an economic downturn. Clearly, it is not. The economy and jobs are. But Rossi's more-conservative views — he generally opposes abortion but favors exceptions in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother — marked him as one of those Republicans.

McKenna will not have an easy ride. Democrats are emboldened by the size of Murray's victory, 4.7 percent during a nationwide Republican tsunami. And there is a growing, left-leaning cohesiveness to King County's vote — ignored at a candidate's peril.

McKenna likely will face U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island, who ran for governor earlier in his career, in 1996, when a few zillion candidates ran for the office. Then-King County Executive Gary Locke won. Inslee has been talking about running and appeared last spring before Spokane County Democrats — not the usual stomping ground for a congressman from Kitsap County.

Another possibility in this race is King County Executive Dow Constantine, who has surprised a lot of people with his willingness to take on the unions that helped elect him. Constantine is green — as in, early — to the governor's game, but Locke ran for governor in his first term and won.

2012 also features Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell's run for re-election but no name Republican has emerged even in the chatter, and, for that matter, there is no big name Republican in the state outside of McKenna.

Individuals from the past who could become current include former KIRO-TV anchor Susan Hutchison, 8th District Congressman Dave Reichert and perhaps even vote-challenged Clint Didier, who was crushed by Rossi in the Senate primary.

McKenna's political next steps would open up the state Attorney General's Office, and King County Councilman Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, is preparing to run. Another King County councilman, Reagan Dunn, a Republican and son of the late Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, is poised to seek higher office — attorney general or Congress. He could go after Reichert's 8th District seat, or he could vie for the new 10th Congressional District seat expected to be announced next week.

More names will surface. One reliable way to determine who else has grand ideas or just good-sized egos is to wait for the phone calls saying, "You forgot me." Fair enough. Let telephones ring.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is

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