Two Democrats face off for Lt. Gov., Republican chases write-in opportunity

When Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib announced this year he was leaving politics to pursue becoming a Jesuit priest, it sent shockwaves through Olympia and blew the 2020 race to fill his seat wide open. 

After a crowded primary, two Democrats emerged with the most votes to advance to the general election: U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who last year announced his intent to retire from Congress after eight years, and state Sen. Marko Liias, who represents parts of Snohomish County and is also the Senate floor leader.

With two Democrats on the ballot, we sought them out to identify their differences.

“I identify as more progressive, so I want to push harder and push farther than I’ve heard from Congressman Heck,” Liias said.

“I have progressive values but I have a pragmatic streak as well,” Heck said. “I believe in including people. The bigger that table is, the better off we are if we're listening to all voices. I believe in principled compromise.”

RELATED: Washington Lieutenant Governor Debate: Democrats Denny Heck and Marko Liias (Watch live at 8 p.m. Oct. 22)

Heck is considered the more moderate of the two and is running his race on his record of bipartisanship, business experience and civility. He repeatedly declined to contrast himself with Liias in our interview.

“I'm offering myself as a candidate with unique depth and breadth of qualification through these job experiences I think they're going to be particularly in demand in a legislative session where we'll still be dealing with the three crises of COVID, an economic recession and of course, the budget shortfall,” Heck said. “I think the values I bring to this job and the life experiences, job experiences I bring to this job suit me to provide experience steady, insightful participation and helping guide our state to a better future.”

Liias was more willing to draw differences between him and the congressman, painting the race as a choice between two generations.

“Congressman Heck is a fine public servant, but I think when you look at what young people are facing right now, a student debt crisis, childcare costs out of reach, the climate crisis that threatens the planet that we're going to live on, it's time for us to have a seat at the table to make sure that state government and leaders at all levels of government are focused on the challenges we're facing,” Liias said.

The office of lieutenant governor is a lot like the vice president of Washington state. The office holder steps in for the governor if the governor is out of state and takes over as governor if the governor, for whatever reason, leaves office. He or she also presides over the state senate and breaks ties, like a vice president.

The race for the office this year is a bit more intriguing given current Gov. Jay Inslee’s name has been floated for a number of cabinet positions should former Vice President Joe Biden defeat President Donald Trump in the election. Inslee has repeatedly said he will not take a cabinet position over governor if Washington voters elect him to a third term over police chief Loren Culp. But if this series of events occurs and Inslee changes his mind, the winner of the lieutenant governor office would fill his seat until a special election next fall. 

Another intriguing factor to the race is the write-in candidacy of Joshua Freed, a Republican and former Bothell mayor who came in third in the gubernatorial primary.

Freed said the state Republican party recruited him to launch a write-in campaign, understanding that with two Democrats on the ballot, a Republican could win with just 34 percent of the vote.

“It is an educational campaign,” Freed said. “We need to make sure that people know there is an option besides two liberal Democrats, that they have a fiscal conservative Republican that's running right now that wants to represent them.”

Still, getting even a third of Washington voters to write in a name that’s not on the ballot is an uphill battle.

“That doesn't mean we shouldn't monitor it,” Heck said. “But it's not something that keeps me awake at night. I'm running my campaign, making my appeal.”

“Voters have sent two Democrats into the general election, now it's up to voters to pick between those two finalists,” Liias said. “I think they got a choice between the status quo and the bold transformational change we need in this moment. That's what I represent. That's what I'm fighting for. And I think they're gonna pick that.”

Heck and Liias will make another appeal to voters during Thursday night’s lieutenant governor debate, which will stream here on at 8 p.m. right after the final presidential debate.