Lights! Camera! Debate! Inslee, McKenna face off on KATU tonight

It's been dubbed as one of the most competitive gubernatorial races in the country and tonight the two men vying to replace Washington's Gov. Chris Gregoire will debate for an hour on KATU Television.

The debate starts at 8 p.m. You can watch it on KATU-TV or streaming live to your computer, phone or tablet on

Republican Rob McKenna, the state's current attorney general, and former U.S. Representative, Democrat Jay Inslee, are in a tight race, according to recent polls. They've been actively campaigning since last summer when Gregoire announced she wouldn't run for a third term.

The two men emerged from the Aug. 7 primary as the top-two vote-getters. Inslee led McKenna 47 percent to 43 percent, but political observers say the primary doesn't necessarily predict the outcome of the General Election in November. But the state does lean Democratic and hasn't elected a Republican governor since 1980.

KATU's debate will be held at Washington State University-Vancouver, which will be the first live debate in the General Election. KATU anchor Brian Wood will moderate it.

The station has teamed up with the mayors and county commissioners in Southwest Washington, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, The Columbia River Economic Development Council and its news partners at The Columbian newspaper.

Like in the presidential race, the economy and job creation are expected to take center stage during the debate.

Inslee has proposed a new Office of Economic Competitiveness and Development. He says its goal will be to connect the variety of economic activities in the state and give them more "credibility when working with the private and public sectors." He also proposed giving small businesses a Business and Occupation tax credit.

McKenna has said he's held 14 small business roundtables and the main complaints he's heard from the business community are a lack of regulatory certainty and a need for tax reform and simplification. He also wants to increase the B&O tax credit for small businesses.

Education has also gained prominence in the race. Both candidates have stated they recognize that an educated workforce will contribute to a stronger state down the road.

McKenna has said he plans to spend an additional $1.7 billion on education through 2015. He said the spending would be paid for through savings from a more efficient government, reduced health care costs and robust competition for state contracts.

Inslee also has said that reducing health care costs and creating efficiencies in government can help pay for education, and he has suggested that getting the economy back on track is paramount to generating the needed money to fund education.

In recent days, the subject of tax returns, like in the presidential race, has entered the fray of the campaign, and it will be interesting to see if it becomes a significant topic during tonight's debate.

Last week Inslee released five years of tax returns and challenged McKenna to do the same. This week McKenna announced he wouldn't do the same and said the tax-return subject is a "phony issue." He added that he's released plenty of financial information in the forms candidates fill out with the state.

Study up! Here are the links to the candidates' websites.