SEATTLE — The gubernatorial primary may be eight months away, but Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson is already looking ahead to a presumed 2024 matchup against former Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert — and Donald Trump.
Speaking to a packed fundraising lunch Tuesday at the Seattle Convention Center, Ferguson and his supporters brought up Trump early and often, while attacking Reichert as unwilling to stand up to the former president.
“If Donald Trump is elected president again — and let’s be honest, that is a very real possibility — we will need a governor who is ready on day one to protect our democracy, our rights and our environment from his illegal and unconstitutional attacks,” Ferguson said.
“The good news is I have a little bit of experience with that,” he said, referring to the dozens of lawsuits his office filed against the Trump administration.
He contrasted his combative stance with Reichert’s record of voting with the Trump administration agenda more than 90% of the time when he was in Congress.
“Donald Trump’s No. 1 nightmare is our dream, and that’s Bob Ferguson,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who has endorsed Ferguson to succeed him, speaking to the crowd of more than 1,200 at the lunch.
Nationalizing governors races is a familiar playbook for Democrats, who have capitalized mightily on the unpopularity of Trump and the national Republican Party among Washington voters. Democrats have run the table during the Trump era, now holding every statewide office along with majorities in the Legislature.
Despite those political tail winds boosting Democrats — and Ferguson’s dominant campaign cash advantage — speakers at the fundraiser played up the potential of a close race next year.
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay urged attendees to donate generously to Ferguson’s campaign, pointing to past open-seat gubernatorial races that have come down to the wire.
“All of this talk about Bob being the presumptive front-runner, about him far outpacing his opponents — don’t let that distract you,” Zahilay said.
Ferguson’s fundraiser speech offered more previews of his 2024 campaign themes and policy agenda as he looks to extend the Democratic winning streak to four decades in gubernatorial races.
He slammed Reichert as not to be trusted on abortion rights, especially in the wake of the Republican-led abortion bans in many states following the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of federal protections in last year’s Dobbs decision.
“Here’s your choice. Dave Reichert will never defend your reproductive freedom. I have successfully defended that freedom as your attorney general, and I most certainly will as your next governor,” Ferguson said.
In interviews since announcing his candidacy, Reichert has sought to downplay the issue, saying state voters have settled the matter by enshrining abortion rights into law.
While he’s running with the endorsement of Inslee, as well as former Gov. Chris Gregoire and a bevy of other top Democratic elected officials and labor groups, Ferguson insisted he’s “not a status quo guy” and would bring an ambitious agenda to Olympia.
If elected, he said he’d elevate the state’s response to the affordable housing and homelessness crisis by creating a new, cabinet-level housing department.
“This new agency will elevate, centralize and better coordinate housing work, integrating our fractured system, cutting through red tape and improving accountability,” Ferguson said.
With Republicans and other critics targeting public safety as a potential vulnerability, Ferguson sought to defend his record, touting action on banning assault rifles and clearing a decades-old backlog of more than 10,000 untested rape kits collected from sexual assault survivors.
Ferguson said he’d address the fentanyl epidemic by boosting law enforcement funding to target traffickers, while also expanding treatment options “so every Washingtonian struggling with addiction can get the help that they need when they need it.”
Left unmentioned at the event was Ferguson’s Democratic rival, state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, who is trying to squeeze through next year’s primary as a moderate, business-backed alternative to Ferguson.
Mullet’s campaign blasted out a fundraising message of its own on Tuesday, assailing Ferguson for coming out two years ago in favor of decriminalization of drug possession.
“Mark has always been laser-focused on ensuring public drug use will not be tolerated in Washington state,” Mullet’s fundraising appeal said.
The Tuesday event was Ferguson’s last big chance to add to his campaign cash totals before a legislative session fundraising freeze for state elected officials kicks in Friday. The freeze lasts through the end of the upcoming 60-day legislative session, which begins Jan. 8. Reichert, who does not hold a state office, is free to continue raising money during the freeze.
Ferguson has already raised $5.1 million — more than all of the other gubernatorial candidates combined, according to state Public Disclosure Commission filings.
Reichert and Mullet each have raised more than $900,000, according to PDC filings. (Mullet’s campaign sent out a news release Tuesday saying his totals had gone over $1 million.)
Semi Bird, another GOP gubernatorial candidate running as a conservative alternative to Reichert, has reported raising about $270,000, but his campaign has been burning through his funds and recently reported a bank balance of $1.72.