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Follow the cash in county executive race

Incumbent Aaron Reardon has raised more money, but challenger Mike Hope is spending more.

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
@NWHaglund
Published:
Imagine being the top elected official in Snohomish County, a well-known figure with twice the amount of campaign cash to burn as your opponent.
Would you spend the money now or save it for later in the campaign?
Then put yourself in the other guy's shoes. Would it be better to be thrifty or to go on a big splurge ahead of this month's primary election?
Those are the relative positions of two rivals vying to be Snohomish County executive: two-term Democratic incumbent Aaron Reardon and his Republican opponent, state Rep. Mike Hope.
Reardon has raised $183,364 for the campaign as of Friday to Hope's $88,276. While Reardon had much more money, Hope has outspent him by some $20,000. Reardon has yet to go through a third of his cash, while Hope has used up 86 percent of his.
That's a pretty typical pattern, according to experts.
"The incumbent always has the huge advantage of name recognition and familiarity among the public, so they don't need to spend as much as early to get their name out there," said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington associate professor of political science and director of the annual Washington Poll. "The challenger will always look to spend money early on to establish their name and attack the incumbent."
Since they're the only two candidates in the race, Reardon and Hope automatically advance to the Nov. 8 general election. They will, however, appear on the Aug. 16 primary ballot, perhaps providing a preview of how they're stacking up.
Take a closer look at campaign-finance numbers available through the state's Public Disclosure Commission, and another contrast emerges between Reardon and Hope.
Reardon has landed support from a number of large corporate interests, including $500 from Alaska Airlines, which owns Horizon Air, one of the two companies seeking to fly out of the county-owned Paine Field, and $1,600 from Waste Management and $1,600 Eli Lilly & Co. Hope, meanwhile, had more individual donors, many of them individuals or small businesses from his legislative district.
As a rule, corporate interests tend to support the people already in power to avoid alienating them, said Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University.
"Those groups, they want to keep the door open with the incumbent and they're hesitant to donate to challengers because maybe you'd get the door slammed in your face," if the incumbent keeps his job, Donovan said.
Those groups, he added, tend to be bipartisan, giving money to incumbents from either political party.
The state limits most donors to a single $800 contribution each for the primary and general election. That's a total of $1,600 for most races.
Hope declared his candidacy last year while Reardon has been able to raise money for nearly four years. Hope also was hamstrung because state law prevents lawmakers from raising money during the legislative session. Despite Hope's late start, he has managed to court about 40 percent more individual donors than Reardon -- about 500 recently compared to about 350 for Reardon.
How do the candidates feel?
Reardon said his fundraising has lagged this year, because, "I just haven't had the time." During the 2007 election cycle, Reardon raised more than $300,000, much of it before the primary.
He said he hasn't felt the need to spend his campaign cash this time, joking that he's a fiscal conservative.
"I spend my time going door to door and talking to people," he said of his campaign efforts.
Hope said he's well aware of the funding gap.
"It's just the power of incumbency," Hope said. "We're not concerned about it at all. We're on our game plan."
Hope said he's working hard to boost his name recognition, especially in south Snohomish County.
Few other ongoing county races have attracted much campaign cash. The candidate outside the executive's race with the most money is Democrat Brian Sullivan, who is running for Snohomish County Council District 2. While he had raised nearly $50,000, one of his GOP opponents, Glen Sayes, reported only $150 and the other, Jason Mills, nothing.
The other County Council seat up for grabs this year is more competitive in terms of money. Democrat Stephanie Wright, who was appointed to represent the council's District 3 last year, has more than $22,000. Her challenger, Republican Kathy Vaughn, had surpassed $12,000. Wright has secured donations from unions as well as from a number of political figures in Edmonds and nearby jurisdictions. Vaughn has enlisted help from colleagues and former colleagues in the mortgage industry, where she works, and from the Snohomish County PUD, where she's an elected commissioner.
For Donovan, money is more important to the challenger than to the incumbent.
"If the challenger holds back and doesn't do all that well" to show their viability, he said, "that might hurt donors after the primary."
Getting to that point can be expensive. Just one slick mailing, Donovan noted, can run tens of thousands of dollars.
Don't expect Reardon or any other incumbent to sit on the sidelines forever.
"I would expect the incumbent will start spending a lot of money before all is said and done," said Barreto, the UW associate professor, "but it's not a huge surprise to see them hold back now."
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.
Five donors you might know
County executive
Aaron Reardon
•Bill Gates Sr., retired attorney, father of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, $250
Alaska Airlines, $500
Waste Management, $1,600
Jeff Wright, CEO of Space Needle LLC, $1,600
Howard Lincoln, Seattle Mariners CEO, $400
Mike Hope
•Monroe Mayor Robert Zimmerman, $500
Skydive Snohomish, $1,250
Craig Skotdal, president, Skotdal real estate, $250
Andy Skotdal, general manager of KRKO 1380 AM, $250
Lake Stevens Mayor Vern Little, $100
County Council
Stephanie Wright
•Washington Machinists Council, $1,600
Strom Peterson, Edmonds City councilman and owner of the Resident Cheesemonger, $150
Gary Haakenson, deputy Snohomish County executive and former Edmonds mayor, $50
Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, $50
Everett city spokeswoman Kate Reardon, $50
Kathy Vaughn
•Edward D. Hansen, former Everett mayor and PUD general manager, $200
Former Snohomish County Councilman Gary Nelson, $200
Snohomish County Councilman John Koster, $100
James Langus, city of Everett, PUD administrator, $200
Steve Neighbors, executive, Terra Staffing Group, $250
Story tags » County executiveLocalLocal elections

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