How much is DelBene willing to invest?
You might think it's not even a question after the primary in which she poured $2.3 million into her campaign and won a spot on the November ballot.
But it is.
DelBene, a former Microsoft Corp. executive, said she's not made up her mind. While the vault isn't empty and she's not lost the combination to it, she's going retail for now, putting in time each day dialing donors for dollars.
What she ultimately decides is a big deal for her party and that of Republican rival John Koster as well as commanders of cash flow for Super PACs backing each candidate.
DelBene's friends and foes know her duel with Koster for an open seat in the 1st Congressional District is viewed as a toss-up right now. They're calculating how much, if any, to invest to influence the outcome knowing full well her decision could change the landscape of choices.
Consider the Democrats' conundrum. Though no one is in the seat now -- Democrat Jay Inslee vacated it to run for governor -- it's been in their hands for more than a decade. Any hope Democrats have of regaining a majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives necessitates they retain control of this one.
As badly as leaders of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee want to win, they have not pledged big sums of money to this race. They'd be overjoyed -- though they won't say so out loud -- if DelBene dropped in a couple million dollars, allowing them to redirect the committee funds to other contests.
It's a similar scenario for the House Majority PAC, an independent political committee devoted to electing Democrats to Congress. It reserved $800,000 worth of time for television commercials boosting the fortunes of the primary victor.
With its initial ads set to air in September, its brain trust is trying to figure out if they'll need to expend more before November. Again, if DelBene shoulders the financial load, they're certain to shift their financial focus to other races across the country.
From the Republican point of view, it doesn't look much different.
Koster certainly expects DelBene will pull out her checkbook at some point and he might even be able to gain a few votes if she does.
The wealthy don't always win; DelBene didn't when she took on U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., in 2010. Self-financed candidates won less than 25 percent of the time that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
A folksy grass-roots guy like Koster, who once made a living raising dairy cows, could stir doubts about the Democratic candidate's believability as a voice for the middle class by pointing out she hails from the posh Medina.
Meanwhile, as much as leaders of the National Republican Congressional Committee want this seat, DelBene's ability to self-fund may deter them from trying to win it if they must match her millions.
Similarly, the prospects of pro-GOP SuperPACs like American Crossroads and Citizens United coming to Koster's aid will dim if it requires a mega investment on their part to keep pace.
The bottom line is there are people working on both sides of the political divide trying to figure out what winning the seat is worth and if it is a price they can afford.
They aren't likely to make a decision until DelBene settles on what she's willing to pay.
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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