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Washington's candidates for governor meet in their highest-profile debate tonight in Seattle, following the televised vice presidential debate.

The challenge facing Rob McKenna is simple: He's a Republican running in a blue state.

Our latest KING 5 poll finds Democrat Barack Obama ahead in Washington state by some 20 points.

It's all about tide and momentum right? said Ron Dotzauer/CEO, strategies 360. So when you're running on a Presidential cycle what happens at the top of the ticket absolutely has some impact on the outcome of the governor's race.

[FOLLOW OUR LIVE BLOG DURING THE DEBATE]

Democrat Jay Inslee may enjoy a boost from the Democratic brand but our polling finds Inslee is not as strong as Obama.

In our poll last week, Inslee leads McKenna by six points, just outside the margin of error. What that means, is that a good number of voters are telling SurveyUSA, they plan to split their tickets - voting for a Democrat as President, then a Republican as Governor.

Inslee's job tonight is to keep more Obama supporters in the fold. McKenna's job is just the opposite.

He has to convince Obama voters that he's an acceptable choice to Jay Inslee. And if he doesn't accomplish that, he's not going to win, said Dotzauer.

On the airwaves, the candidates are now attacking each other directly. Expect to see that sharpen tonight over education, health care.

In Yakima last week, McKenna hammered Inslee for not giving specifics. Inslee portrayed McKenna as the Olympia insider:

But Republicans hope McKenna reminds voters it's the Democrats, Inslee's party, who have controlled the governor's mansion for 28 years.

I think he needs to be asked, what are you going to do about this, how are you going to assure these things stop happening? How are you going to assure there's no suspicion or a spot of corruption over state government since you'll probably appoint the very same people? How do you differ from the current administration? said Kirby Wilbur/Wa. Republican Party Chair

Because the governor's race is so close any swing in the national tide can make a difference.

Those Washington state poll numbers we just saw were taken before last week's presidential debate so they don't include any bounce that Mitt Romney may have received.

And the numbers will likely change again tonight after the vice presidential debate.

Watch both the vice presidential debate and Washington governor debate on KING 5 and also live streaming on KING5.com

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