Inslee resigns to focus on campaign

Seattle congressman faces tough race for governor

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SEATTLE -- Rep. Jay Inslee is resigning from Congress to focus full-time on running for governor of Washington state this fall, the Democrat announced Saturday.

“It was a difficult decision, but what I need to do right now is focus all my attention on talking to people about what’s really important -- creating jobs and growing our economy,” Inslee said in a statement.

Inslee is in his eighth term representing a Seattle-area district in the House. His resignation is effective March 20.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, a fellow Democrat, is not seeking a third term. Inslee is in a tough race against Republican Rob McKenna, the state’s attorney general. Recent polls show the race to be very close.

In McKenna, Republicans believe they have their best opportunity to win the state’s highest office in decades. The last GOP governor, John Spellman, was elected in 1980.

Inslee has raised about $3.8 million so far. McKenna has raised a total of $3.73 million, according to the latest figures from the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Inslee is touting a jobs agenda since announcing his campaign, while McKenna has focused on education.

“I look forward to hearing Congressman Inslee explain how 15 years in Washington, D.C., have prepared him to lead our state, now that he is quitting Congress,” McKenna said in a statement. “Our team has been waging a campaign of ideas since last June, yet the congressman waited over seven months after announcing his candidacy to release any specific proposals.”

Several top Democrats had, for months, been privately urging Inslee to step down from Congress.

Inslee has represented Washington’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Seattle’s northern suburbs, since 1999. Some party officials worry that Inslee isn’t as well-known in the rest of the state as McKenna, who has been elected to statewide office two times.

In his announcement, Inslee promised to step up his campaigning, saying: “I am not one for half measures or half-hearted efforts.”

“I am going to leave everything on the field. I am going everywhere, and I am going to listen to everybody,” he added.

Inslee’s seat will remain open until a new representative is chosen in November’s election. Had Inslee resigned before March 6, Gregoire would have had to call a special election to fill his seat.