When I view the outcomes of campaigns and elections, I view them through different lenses. As of late, the most frequent lens seems to be a demographic lens: while the entire red state/blue state divide is often exaggerated, it is true that in many areas, the identity politics of the electorate determine the winner, rather than the candidates or issues. In Washington this year, that was a major part of what went on in the gubernatorial race, but not all of it.
The State of Washington is one of the more liberal in the United States, being in the top 10 states for Barack Obama this year. The Governor of Washington has been Democratic since the 1984 election, which is the longest streak for one party control of any governorship in the United States. Washington's liberal base is also not the liberal base of much of the country, since it is not based only on minorities and union members, but on the well-educated and affluent who have cultural differences with the Republican Party. Washington also is one of only eleven states which holds its race in a general election year.
The candidates for the election were Jay Inslee, a congressperson whose district represented parts of Seattle and its wealthy suburbs, and Rob McKenna, the Attorney General of the state. Based on Washington's demographics and the downticket effect of having Barack Obama at the top of the ballot, Jay Inslee had the wind at his back. But Rob McKenna did have an advantage: he was Attorney General, which is both a position of executive authority and which produces tangible, and popular results. While a congressman sits in committees and rewrites the fine, arcane points of bills, an Attorney General puts murderers in jail.
So along with the demographics of a state and the quality of the candidates, the office that a candidate has held is often an important factor in an election. At least, this is the best explanation I can have of what was an abnormally close race in Washington, with Inslee and McKenna trading the leads in the polls over campaign season. However, on election day, Inslee had a very strong turnout in King County, making up for narrow margins in Seattle's suburbs and a quite poor showing throughout the rest of the state. Two days after election night, McKenna conceded, with the final result being Inslee with 51.1 percent of the vote and McKenna with 48.9% of the vote. For McKenna to do as well as he did was a sign of a strong candidate and a strong campaign, but it couldn't undo the antipathy that many people in Washington have to a party's whose cultural identity is becoming irrelevant to them.