Incumbent West Australian premier Colin Barnett will start the state election campaign as clear favourite to win another term, according to federal defence minister and MP for Perth Stephen Smith.

But Mr Smith has also backed Opposition Leader Mark McGowan to run a close race, while dismissing any negative impact on the ALP's chances through the unpopularity of Prime Minister Julia Gillard in his home state.

The WA election campaign is set to begin in earnest next week, although Mr McGowan and his Labor party have already rolled out their major "Metronet" rail policy for Perth.

Speaking in the WA capital, Mr Smith said his party was a clear underdog for the state election on March 9, but voters still had a big decision to make.

"It is quite clear that Colin Barnett starts as favourite, but I think Mark McGowan has been doing a very good job of arranging a number of positive policy proposals," Mr Smith said.

"(Voters) are smart enough to work out this is a state poll. Do they want eight long years of Colin Barnett, and the potential for (state treasurer Troy) Buswell in the course of that eight-year period?

"Or do they want Mr McGowan, who from the first moment he became leader of the opposition conducted himself as an alternative premier?"

A Newspoll taken between October and December, reported in The Australian newspaper on Monday, gives the WA coalition a 58-42 two-party-preferred lead over Labor.

The poll indicated 48 per cent of voters prefer Mr Barnett as premier, compared to 29 per cent for Mr McGowan.

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