She's up against a popular Republican school leader and a Democrat who's raised more money. They're competing in a reshaped 1st Legislative District with a batch of Snohomish County voters McAuliffe has not represented before.
"Anything can happen out there," she said of what may transpire in the Aug. 7 election. "I think you should always be worried."
McAuliffe's friends definitely are.
They've been funneling tens of thousands of dollars through independent political committees to deal with the threat posed by Republican Dawn McCravey of Bothell and Democrat Guy Palumbo of Maltby.
By Wednesday, they had dumped $53,750 into this contest. That amount exceeded McAuliffe's expenditure total of $45,096 and was more than the spending by McCravey ($23,425) and Palumbo ($25,747) combined, according to reports posted online by the state Public Disclosure Commission.
No surprise, the Washington Education Association is a key player. McAuliffe, the chairwoman of the Senate education committee, is a booming voice for the statewide teachers union in Olympia, while McCravey and Palumbo want to dial back the labor organization's power in setting policy for the state's public school system.
On July 10, the WEA plunked down $5,100 for a poll and a week later poured $30,000 into a television ad now running on cable stations.
In the meantime, a group calling itself Working Families for the 1st has poured $18,650 into producing and sending out pro-McAuliffe literature. Its money comes from the Washington State Labor Council's Don't Invest in More Excuses (DIME) PAC whose largest donors include the Washington Federation of State Employees, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
With a reshaped district and competitive primary, these groups wanted to make sure voters know McAuliffe's record, explained Dean Nielsen, the consultant for Working Families.
Labor leaders want to be certain she finishes in the top two and advances. They don't want her to suffer the fate of former Democratic state Sen. Jean Berkey of Everett, who came in third in her 2010 primary. They know exactly how that happened as they funded an independent campaign attacking Berkey and boosting her eventual successor, Democrat Nick Harper.
Though such independent spending by political committees has proliferated in legislative races in recent years, this is the first time McAuliffe's been the beneficiary. The state's online database of campaign spending shows no independent expenditures made in support or opposition during any of her five campaigns.
Its occurrence now feeds the perception the 20-year lawmaker is vulnerable this year.
At least that's the narrative painted by her opponents.
"All it shows is how worried the Olympia special interests are about Rosemary's re-election prospects," said Republican consultant Brett Bader, an adviser to McCravey.
Republican Party leaders are on the same wavelength. Picking up this seat is pivotal to increase the number of GOP senators.
Already, they've steered $40,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to McCravey, an elected board member of the Northshore School District. That sum is roughly two-thirds of the $62,300 she's raised.
Meanwhile Palumbo is the wild card in this race. The first-time candidate had hauled in $71,117 in contributions -- roughly $10,000 more than McAuliffe. And he's tracking the flow of dollars into this race on his campaign web site to try to convince voters of his political independence.
McAuliffe's views this as her toughest primary yet but is plenty confident she'll advance.
"Somebody is going to drop out on Aug. 7 and it's not going to be me," she said.
Especially if her friends can help it.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield's blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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