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Published: Thursday, November 10, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

2 rising political stars bruised in race for county executive

Reardon, Hope 'gouge each other's eyes out' but will likely survive

  • Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon talks with supporters at the Labor Temple in Everett Tuesday night shortly after his challenger, state Rep. M...

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon talks with supporters at the Labor Temple in Everett Tuesday night shortly after his challenger, state Rep. Mike Hope, conceded.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon slugged his way through a hard-fought campaign to beat challenger Mike Hope.
Tough talk and tactics served Reardon well during the election cycle. But will they hurt his political future? Probably not, according to political pros.
"Observers get all excited about nasty campaigning," said Chris Vance, a public affairs consultant and past chairman of the state Republican Party. "The public has come to expect it. The public has become ho-hum, 'More politicians gouging each other's eyes out.'"
On the other hand, a lack of election-night humility, Vance said, could tarnish the victor's image -- much more than words about a criminal investigation into Reardon's travel expenses.
Hope, a Republican, conceded the race after initial vote totals showed him trailing Reardon, a Democrat, by 13 percentage points.
Reardon, when asked Tuesday if Hope had called to concede, quipped that Hope is "very conceited" but he had yet to receive a call.
"The public doesn't like that," Vance said. "The public hates arrogance. The public wants you to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser."
That's not always easy to do, he said, especially after a political contest becomes personal.
A Seattle-based Democratic political strategist chalked up Reardon's quip to election-night emotion. Cathy Allen gave the winner leeway for the remark and said it might even bolster his image as a scrappy political brawler.
"It is part of his persona and something that people must like up there," said Allen, president and CEO of The Connections Group. "No one has said there's anything gracious about Aaron."
On Wednesday, with about 33.4 percent of ballots counted, the spread between the candidates remained similar to initial returns, with 56 percent of the votes in Reardon's favor. Reardon had 62,981 votes and Hope 48,309 after Wednesday's count, the Auditor's Office reported.
Turnout is expected to reach just over 50 percent when tallying is done.
In the general election, Reardon widened his lead over Hope compared to August's primary, when he took 52 percent of the vote.
Between the primary and general elections, Reardon's roughly twofold advantage in campaign cash allowed him to spend at least $130,000 for ads on cable TV.
Two public revelations also may have dampened Hope's fortunes.
One was news of Hope's brief suspension from his job as a Seattle police officer a decade ago. The suspension stemmed from Hope's behavior as a passenger during a traffic stop in Mill Creek.
Paperwork about the arrest was dug up out of police archives by Kevin Hulten, a junior member of Reardon's executive office staff.
Reardon used the event to counter Hope's attacks on ethical questions and management lapses under Reardon's leadership.
Reardon's negative campaign was contrary to common wisdom that an incumbent should try to run on a track record of positive accomplishments. However, it sometimes make sense to use "a scorched-earth practice," Vance said.
Polling is key.
"If you find out that voters don't like you or don't like the job you've done, the way you get reelected is you disqualify your opponent," Vance said.
Another event that turned heads was the Nov. 3 news that the Washington State Patrol had launched a criminal investigation into Reardon's use of public money during trips on county business.
That revelation probably hurt Hope, not Reardon, said Ron Dotzauer, a Democratic strategist who has advised Reardon and was among the large contributors to his campaign.
The public has simply grown tired of last-minute allegations, he said.
"For whatever reason, I think there was a backlash," Dotzauer said.
Hope's campaign played a role in encouraging reporters to run down rumors of the investigation. However, members of Reardon's own party actually received the initial complaint and decided it deserved a closer look.
That happened after somebody brought concerns about Reardon's domestic travel to the attention of fellow Democrat Dave Somers, the chairman of the Snohomish County Council. Somers contacted Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, also a Democrat. On Oct. 26, Roe asked State Patrol detectives to investigate potential official misconduct.
"I think Hope got hurt," Dotzauer said. "I also think that Dave Somers got hurt, even though he wasn't on the ballot. It looked like Somers was timing it to go with the election cycle."
Somers has called the timing of the news unfortunate. He said he was surprised word leaked out before investigators had a chance to determine whether the allegations were founded. The person who approached Somers was not the same person who alerted Hope to the investigation. That person had been interviewed by detectives because she'd earlier raised questions about Reardon's travel.
Reardon and his allies have tried to portray the patrol investigation as a desperate, slimy attack from Hope's campaign.
"It was a last-minute attempt to influence an election and it failed miserably," county Democratic Party chairman Bill Phillips said.
Phillips' GOP counterpart, Bill Cooper, called blaming the Hope camp "just inappropriate."
The State Patrol on Wednesday declined to provide further details about what they are looking into or how long it will take.
"We released everything the first day we felt we were able to," patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said. "We never provide a timeline for investigations."
Calkins said the agency's acknowledgement of the probe a week ago was "consistent with how we do business."
However, it is far more common for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to simply refuse to talk about ongoing investigations. State law specifically exempts law enforcement agencies from public disclosure requests that could force investigations into the open before detectives are ready.
Reardon, 40, is set to begin his third term, the maximum number allowed. He said he has no immediate plans to run for Congress or statewide office, a point of much speculation.
Political consultants said they take Reardon at his word on that subject -- for now.
"Right now moving up brings with it additional costs and a whole lot of headaches," Allen said. "Moving up in political office is not all it's cracked up to be."
Dotzauer agreed, with the caveat that "in the political world, you never close any doors, you never say never and you never say no."
Hope, 36, is in his second term in the state House of Representatives and will face re-election next year. The county executive race could bring him lasting name recognition, but it's also likely to draw more serious Democratic competition if he runs for re-election, Vance said.
"Both these guys were viewed as rising stars, and might still be," Vance said. "But both of them come out of it a little bruised and battered for the future."
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » County executiveLocal elections

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