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February 23, 2012 at 10:35 AM

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Nickels will run for Secretary of State

Corrected version

Update: 3:40 p.m. Added mention of Arthur Langlie as the last Seattle mayor to win statewide office.

Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels declared his bid for Secretary of State Thursday, saying he'd use the position to weigh in forcefully on issues like corporate money flooding elections.

Nickels, a lifelong Democrat, said it was crucial that the office administer elections without partisan bias, praising the office's incumbent, Republican Sam Reed, for his handling of the contested 2004 gubernatorial contest.

At the same time, Nickels vowed to speak out on threats to democracy, citing the rise of Super PACs nationally and Costco's $20 million campaign to privatize liquor sales in this state.

"I have a real reverence for our democracy and I think that it's fragile," said Nickels, who noted he has been involved in politics since he was 16.

Whether the Secretary of State would have much influence on sweeping campaign-finance issues is debatable -- the office's main functions include administering elections and registering corporations and nonprofits. It does not regulate campaign donations.

But Nickels' political message is well-calibrated to appeal to the Democratic primary electorate. Democrats have been particularly alarmed by the unfettering of corporate money and unlimited donations to super PACs in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling.

Nickels had been in an exploratory phase since last month, chatting with potential supporters and raising money for a poll that showed he'd start with a name-identification advantage over rivals.

But name-recognition could work against him too. After two terms as mayor, Nickels was unceremoniously dumped by Seattle voters in the 2009 primary, coming in third to two relatively unknown rivals, Joe Mallahan, and Mike McGinn.

Democrats haven't captured the Secretary of State's office in decades, and the Seattle mayor's office has not been much of a launching pad to higher office.

Norm Rice was the last to try it - running for governor in 1996 but losing in the Democratic primary. The last Seattle mayor to win statewide office was Republican Arthur B. Langlie, who was elected governor in 1940, lost in 1944, and was elected again in 1948.

Democratic state legislators Zack Hudgins and James Kastama, and former Democratic lawmaker Kathleen Drew have already declared in the race.

Nickels was urged to run by state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz, and has lined up top Democratic consultant Christian Sinderman to work on his campaign.

On the Republican side, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman is campaigning to succeed Reed, who has held the office since 2000.

Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled state Rep. Zack Hudgins' first name.

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