But with nearly 2.4 million votes counted and an estimated 700,000 to go, both campaigns say they expect victory.
Meanwhile, two-term Gov. Chris Gregoire has started working with both campaigns on an orderly transition, and the outgoing Democrat has set aside time on her calendar as soon as next week to sit down with the eventual victor.
“I think once everybody agrees Jay is the winner of the election we can move forward with the official transition process,’’ Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said Thursday afternoon. “We continue to be very confident about what the end numbers will be.”
But McKenna’s campaign manager, Randy Pepple, stayed resolute in saying the GOP’s private polling and analysis shows late-deciding voters around the state would favor the Republican by a 2-to-1 margin, and they believe McKenna is going to win once all ballots are counted.
In a video put out by the campaign Thursday, Pepple urged supporters to “just stay with us a few more days.’’ He said they expected Inslee to gain Thursday but then for McKenna to reverse the trend and start gaining Friday and over the weekend.
Pepple also said the campaign is keeping its roughly 32 paid staffers on the payroll as they continue to chase down voters whose ballots have been challenged, usually because of mismatched signatures. About 16,000 ballots have been challenged around the state, and the campaign is working to notify the voters and get the ballots that could help McKenna verified.
McKenna’s campaign also has attorneys in every county who are prepared to deal with any issues that arise.
Inslee spokesman Sterling Clifford said the campaign also was reaching out to people with challenged ballots. But he said it was because it was in everyone’s interest to have ballots counted – not because of fears that the campaign’s lead may disappear.
“We continue to have tremendous confidence in what the final results will be,” Clifford said.
Gregoire has not been waiting around for a victor. Her chief spokesman Cory Curtis said Gregoire’s own transition into the office in 2004, which was clouded by two vote recounts and a court challenge by Republican Dino Rossi, taught her she should prepare early for a handoff.
“We actually started the transition process about six months ago. The governor is committed to having it (become) a seamless process. That began with cabinet agencies preparing transition documents... to include everything from nuts and bolts of running the agency to hot issues on their plates (and) rule-making that is going to be passed on to the new administration,” Curtis said in an interview.
He said the governor’s office has been in touch with both campaigns for months. “We are still in contact with both equally until a winner is determined. And we have transition space set up,’’ Curtis said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.