PAC money comes after Dunn in the 8th District
Plus more shenanigans in the 3rd District
A political action committee bankrolled by a handful of wealthy conservatives is running a negative campaign highlighting Reagan Dunn’s past problems with alcohol in a bid to push fellow Republican Jesse Jensen through the primary in the 8th Congressional District.
Fearful that Dunn, the presumptive GOP frontrunner, will squander an opportunity to knock off incumbent Democrat Kim Schrier, Lead The Way PAC has spent more than $250,000 on its independent campaign to lift Jensen past the King County Council member. The committee’s name is a reference to Jensen’s background as a U.S. Army Ranger. “Rangers lead the way” is the motto of that elite force.
Jensen took a sizeable chunk out of Schrier in 2020, winning 48 percent of the vote despite not getting much help from national Republican money. Dunn, the son of the late U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, got into the race after last year’s redistricting process made the district somewhat more favorable for him.
Part of the campaign features some real hardball on Dunn’s past problems with alcohol. Here’s a pamphlet-style mailer that adopts the form of an imagined group text between a group of female friends in the district. (It gets a little repetitive.)
For a deep dive into that episode, check out Jim Brunner’s piece in The Seattle Times from earlier this year. This kind of negative campaign tactic is typically the province of independent committees because candidates shy away from such overt hartball.
The biggest of the Lead The Way PAC’s checks, for $100K, came from Walter Schlaepfer, a wealth manager who goes by Phil Scott in his professional life and runs the Bellevue-based Scott Schlaepfer Family Foundation.
The PAC also got $71K from Mark Robison, president of an engineering firm, and $50K from Steve Gordon, the founder of Concerned Taxpayers of Washington State, which we wrote about in the most recent edition of The Sunday Observer.
The PAC commissioned a poll in May and has been spending aggressively on mail, digital and TV advertising this month. Here’s the TV spot:
Dunn was considered the presumptive front-runner when he got into the race. He’s represented a big chunk of the district on the King County Council for years and enjoys high name recognition. But the PAC’s poll found that the baggage he’s lugging around made him highly vulnerable, both in the primary and against Schrier in November.
With no GOP incumbent and a contested primary, the national Republican money is mostly on the sidelines until after the primary. Jensen has raised more than $1 million, compared to $814K for Dunn. A third Republican, Matt Larkin, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2020, has raised $967K. Schrier is sitting on a $6 million war chest.
More shenanigans in the 3rd Congressional District
On Sunday we wrote about a mysterious campaign to boost Republican challenger Heidi St. John in the 3rd Congressional District, where incumbent GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is facing conservative backlash over her vote to impeach Donald Trump. Our conclusion was that the currently anonymized campaign was in aid of getting Herrera Beutler through the primary by carving off some of the support for Joe Kent, her more high-profile challenger from the right.
This week a source passed us yet another piece of political gamesmanship, this time from Kent’s campaign itself. Here’s his mailer, which is ostensibly against Democratic challenger Marie Glusenkamp Perez.
While the piece adopts some of the tropes of a hit piece — note the grainy black-and-white photo — a close reading reveals it’s actually aimed at notifying Democrats that there’s a Democrat in the race, in hopes of preventing Herrera Beutler from peeling off those votes. For example, you wouldn’t use “pro-choice” if you were looking to fire up anti-abortion conservatives. And the Kent campaign is apparently mailing it to Democratic households.
As we’ve noted before, Kent’s only real hope of victory in this race is to knock Herrera Beutler out in the primary. His campaign has plenty of money, so he can afford to try some unorthodox tactics. The mailer is likely welcome news in Perez’s camp. Her only path to victory is to face Kent in November and hope the district’s independents and moderate Republicans recoil from his MAGA schtick.
Don’t forget to take the Observer’s reader survey
Our first reader survey will be live through Friday. Look for a separate email in your inbox with a link to the poll.
We’re taking the weekend off
The Woman Who Lets Me Live With Her and I are headed out to celebrate the marriage of our only daughter, so The Sunday Observer isn’t happening this week unless something really juicy drops in our lap. We’ll be back at it next week for the final run-up to the primary.
Thank you for your attention. The Morning Wire is the free mid-week update from The Washington Observer and the Washington State Wire, which track politics, government, and the influence thereof in Washington State. It’s made possible by the Observer’s paid subscribers. If you don’t already subscribe, please consider joining them to access subscriber-only editions and the warm glow of supporting independent journalism.