It's the people who make a living from television ads, mailers and consulting services.
The contest between incumbent Aaron Reardon, a Democrat, and state Rep. Mike Hope, a Republican, has consumed nearly $525,000. Only one other local race in Washington this year, for a seat on the King County Council, has run up bigger numbers.
That's according to spending reports filed through Monday with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
"I'm not surprised about where they fit in reference to this off-year election," said Paul Elvig, who was a Snohomish County Republican Party chairman during the 1990s. "There's not that many races going on around the state, in reality. Next year's election is going to be a very different picture."
Polls close at 8 p.m. tonight. That's the deadline to have ballots postmarked or dropped off at one of Snohomish County's official ballot boxes.
It's been a rowdy race, with both sides getting personal. On Thursday, both campaigns were scrambling, after the Washington State Patrol and others acknowledged Reardon is being investigated for alleged official misconduct focusing on his domestic travel. Reardon has denied any wrongdoing.
Even before that bombshell, the race was attracting plenty of attention.
Reardon has reported receiving the third-most campaign money of any candidate statewide. In all, he and his backers reported raising more than $380,000, with about 20 percent of the money spent by groups outside his campaign.
Hope raised about $175,000.
Although a lot of money was raised and spent in the race, it didn't set a record for a local county contest. Hundreds of thousands of dollars more were spent eight years ago when the county executive job became open after term limits prevented Bob Drewel from running again and Reardon made his first run for the position.
Reardon raised and spent more than $300,000 four years ago when he won a lopsided contest against Republican Jack Turk, a political novice who ran a largely invisible campaign and was best known for his magic act under the stage name "Turk the Magic Genie."
Reardon took 65 percent of the vote that year. In August's primary, he received 52 percent against Hope.
"This time around, the Republican Party recruited a much stronger candidate," said Mark Hintz, past chairman of the Snohomish County Democrats. "That was a race they conceded. They didn't concede this time."
Both candidates spent the largest portion of their campaign cash on out-of-state firms that made campaign TV ads.
Starting in September, Reardon paid a total of $130,000 to Fletcher Rowley Inc. of Nashville, Tenn. An online bio for William B. Fletcher Jr., a partner in the firm, brags about him being called the "Dark Prince" of politics in his home state by an alternative weekly newspaper. The bio goes on to quote an opponent's campaign manager describing a Fletcher attack ad as coming, "out of nowhere. It was like a drive-by shooting."
Reardon also spent about $59,000 on Olympia-based TR Strategies for consulting and printing services and nearly $33,000 to Colby Underwood Consulting of Seattle. Underwood is one of the state's biggest political fundraisers.
Hope's expenses included more than $90,000 for TV spots to an Arizona-based media and video production group. His campaign also paid $12,266 to former Monroe City Councilman Chad Minnick's company Minnick and Minnick, plus $5,000 to Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb's North Creek Law Firm.
Reardon received financial backing from groups outside his campaign to the tune of $78,000, the bulk of it from unions and the building community. Pro-choice groups spent $15,000 on mailers attacking Hope's position on abortion, though that issue has little to nothing to do with the county executive's day-to-day duties.
Other recent contributions have flowed to Reardon's campaign from local Indian tribes, Teamsters and people working to build high-rise condos at Point Wells next to Woodway.
Hope has received recent support from Harvey Airfield, Frontier Airpark, Lake Stevens businessman Steve Neighbors and Snohomish County Farm Bureau President Ed Husmann.
The state GOP gave Hope $16,750, more than three times the $5,000 state Democrats gave to Reardon. The disparity in state-level party donations came as no surprise to Hintz, who believes it has to do with the widespread perception that Reardon is aiming for higher office. Reardon has said he has no immediate plans to run for Congress, governor or other statewide office and that he intends to serve out his four-year term as executive if re-elected.
"I think the state Republicans see Aaron Reardon as somebody with a bright future, and if they deal with him now, there's less of a chance they'll have to deal with him in the future," Hintz said.
Scott North contributed to this report.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last chance to vote
Today is the last day to vote in the 2011 general election. All ballots must be postmarked or dropped at an official Snohomish County drop box by 8 p.m. For more information, call 425-388-3444 or go to www.snoco.org/elections.
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