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Big money targets key legislative races before the primary
Plus some playing nice in that D-on-D fight over natural gas
As we’ve noted, Republicans have a steep, narrow, and rocky path to taking over the state Senate. This month’s trove of spending reports to the Public Disclosure Commission shows us how they’re trying to smooth out that path ahead of next month’s primary with some big money.
Bear with us while we do a little money-following: On June 16, a new political action committee called WA Wins was formed. Since then, $900,000 has flowed into the new PAC from The Leadership Council, the soft-money committee controlled by SenateRepublicans, which means Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia. Such money can be given in large amounts by individuals, corporations, business associations, and unions. It can’t generally be delivered directly to candidates but it can be spent independently to oppose or support candidates.
The biggest chunks of the Leadership Council’s money this year came from two dark-money national political committees based in the other Washington that exist essentially to build the GOP bench by electing Republicans to state legislatures and to Congress: $200,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which describes itself as “America’s Only Line Of Defense Against Socialism In the States,” and $175K from the GOPAC Election Fund.
The Leadership Council also took in five-figure checks from a variety of other players in state politics. Here’s every donation over $25K for this year:
To clarify some of the less obvious names: WashBankPAC is the banking industry; the Building Industry Association of Washington represents the state’s homebuilders; developer George Rowley owns large chunks of Issaquah; the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association represents residential landlords; Altria is Big Tobacco; oil giant Marathon Petroleum owns one of the state’s five oil refineries; and the Engineers are among the blue-collar unions ticked off at majority Democrats about various attempts to ban natural gas.
So where did the money go? Thus far, $387K has been spent on negative campaign messaging targeting Democratic incumbents in five districts and Democratic hopefuls in two others. Somewhat unusually, WA Wins is spending ahead of the primary even though nearly all the Democrats in question are sure to advance to November. The idea is to show those Democrats are vulnerable and drive enthusiasm and turnout among GOP voters and big donors on the right going into November.
Here are the targets:
Sens. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, and Manka
Dhingra, in the 30th, 44th and 45th Districts, respectively. All three districts are considered D-leaning tossups. The 30th and the 45th have been held by Republicans within the last decade. Here’s the ad running against Lovick, which highlights some controversial votes on taxation and criminal justice: (Apologies for the poor video quality; it’s phone video from an actual TV passed on by a source.)
The PAC is also targeting Sens. June Robinson, D-Everett, and Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, in the 38th and 21st Districts in Snohomish County. Both had been considered safe Democratic seats for years. This is the Republicans trying to expand the field so enough seats are in play to flip control of the chamber.
WA Wins is also targeting both Democrats — Kent City Councilmember Satwinder Kaur and Claudia Kauffman — in the contested primary for the 47th District in South King County, which outgoing Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, currently holds. Das narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Joe Fain in 2018, just weeks after an allegation of past sexual misconduct surfaced. The winner gets Republican Bill Boyce, Kaur’s colleague on the Kent City Council. He’s been raising serious cash.
And finally, the PAC is targeting Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, who is running for the 42nd district seat formerly held by the late Doug Ericksen. In a move widely viewed as a political favor to Shewmake, the Whatcom County Council appointed 22-year-old Republican Simon Sefzikto succeed Ericksen. He faces a primary challenge from Ben Elenbaas, a Republican member of that same county council.
Democrats currently control the Senate with a 28-21 majority. Republicans need a net shift of four seats to take control. That means protecting the 42nd and winning four of the 21st, 26th, 30th, 38th, 44th, 45th, and 47th districts. The path is still steep and rocky, but now we know where to watch.
Expanding the field may also force Democrats to spread money around to play defense instead of concentrating on their most vulnerable. For example, until recently, Liias, the powerful chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, had mostly been appealing to his supporters on behalf of colleagues. In recent days he’s started asking for help for his own campaign.
So far it’s all positive in that D-on-D race in the 40th
We’ve been keeping a close eye on spending in the Democrat-on-Democrat House race in the 40th District, which encompasses Anacortes, the San Juan Islands, and part of Bellingham.
The Jackson Legacy Fund, which supports moderate Democrats, is looking to take out Rep. Alex Ramel, D-Bellingham, over his support for phasing out most uses of natural gas. Much of the money comes from the blue-collar unions that build and maintain gas infrastructure. They’re backing labor operative Trevor Smith for the office through a PAC called Citizens for Legislative Accountability, and this week we saw the first chunk of their independent spending on Smith’s behalf.
So far, that PAC has plowed more than $80,000 into a multimedia campaign that includes cable TV, streaming video, and even an old-fashioned newspaper ad in the recently launched Cascadia Daily News. Here’s the YouTube version of their ad:
Thus far they’re taking the high road. That ad makes a gesture toward high gas prices and a generic dig at Olympia rather than a specific attack on Ramel, who’s one of the Legislature’s greenest members. That’s a campaign designed to boost Smith’s name recognition. Think of it as the jab in the boxing match, a testing punch designed to set up the hard right waiting behind.
There’s a poll in the field testing some sharper messaging. Here’s a screenshot of one of the questions passed to us by a source up in the 40th:
In the future, look for the campaign to drape the Legislature’s recent moves on climate policy, both enacted and proposed, around Ramel’s neck. Many of those policies imply significantly higher prices for fuel in the future. That might turn out to be a very itchy scarf indeed with $5-plus gasoline.
Some recommended reading
We were going to feature the throwdown between two schools of election-reform nerds that’s going on in Seattle, but The Stranger’s Hanna Krieger beat us not only to the story but to the nerd lede. Short version, the City Council is looking to kneecap the approval voting initiative we wrote about back in January by putting a competing bill authorizing ranked-choice voting. That story’s expected to develop later this week, so stay tuned. (The stories linked above get into some fanciful speculation about how the 2017 and 2021 mayoral races might have played out differently under the two competing systems.)
Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times gets into the initiative drought we wrote about in the most recent edition of The Sunday Observer as well as the grand plan from the right to use the initiative to the Legislature for sweeping change, which we dug into last month. We appreciate the shout-out and the opportunity to use the phrase “dead money,” a great gift to writers from the folks who obsess about pro football contracts.
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A reluctant boat dog
There are similar committees for House Republicans and for the Democratic majorities in both chambers. We’ll get to their spending in future editions.
Shewmake beat Sefzik’s mother, Jennifer, in a crazy-expensive House race in 2020.