McAuliffe, of Bothell, who is pursuing a sixth term in the 1st Legislative District, is an influential voice in the running of the state's public school system as chairwoman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee.
Earlier this year, she drew the ire of education reformers by blocking a bill to create charter schools and toning down a measure tying teacher pay to test scores of students.
Now McAuliffe finds herself in the political crosshairs of one of the reform groups, Stand for Children, which is financed heavily by wealthy entrepreneurs. The organization has poured $203,000 into television ads and mailers opposing McAuliffe -- with one quarter of it getting spent last week.
"Our kids can't wait any longer," said Anne Martens, the group's communications director. "Our schools should be student-centered, and we need new leadership who will focus on helping students get better results."
McAuliffe said she expected a battle for her seat.
"I've been attacked before and I don't like it. I've never had that kind of money thrown into a race against me," she said.
In the meantime, when McCravey, also of Bothell, finished only a few hundred votes behind McAuliffe in the primary -- and beat her in Snohomish County precincts -- it put a bit of starch in Senate Republicans' resolve. The GOP caucus needs to add three members to gain a majority and this seat is on the party's short list for pick-ups.
It won't be an easy gain. There was a third candidate in the primary, Democrat Guy Palumbo of Maltby. He and McAuliffe combined for nearly 58 percent of the vote and Palumbo, who ran hard against the incumbent, is supporting her.
"At the end of the day, I see eye-to-eye with Dawn on perhaps one issue, education reform," he said. "Other than that we don't agree on many other issues especially social issues where I am progressive and she is, I believe, severely conservative."
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McAuliffe, 72, was born in Seattle and in her 20s moved to the Bothell area where she and her husband raised six children.
She worked as a nurse until stopping to focus on her family. In 1977, she bought the Hollywood Schoolhouse in Woodinville where today she is the owner and manager. The McAuliffe name is now deeply rooted in the business community with one of her sons owning a landscaping business, two others running nurseries, and a fourth owning Maltby Recycling.
McAuliffe said she entered politics because two of her children had dyslexia and she found the local Northshore School District -- like many districts at that time -- lacking an effective means of helping students with learning disabilities.
She secured a seat on the school board in 1977 and served 14 years. In 1992, Democratic lawmakers asked her to run "because I was never happy about how they were dealing with education at the state level."
She won handily and has been re-elected four times. She wasn't certain she'd run again when the year began. As the education tussles heated up in the legislative session, she made up her mind.
"I know I need to be here," she said in July. "People are trying to interfere with the progress we've made on education reform."
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McCravey, 56, was born in Ganado, Texas. She said she moved a lot as a child because her father, a petroleum engineer, traveled to where the oil fields beckoned.
As an adult, she worked as a special education teacher in Colorado and Texas but has not taught since she and her third husband moved to Washington 16 years ago.
She's a mom for six children -- "he had two, I had two from previous marriages and we had two together."
Like McAuliffe, she entered politics because of her children. Five years ago, she and other Northshore School District parents agitated for a change in the math curriculum away from "fuzzy math" where, she said, "kids got the why of math but not the how."
In 2007, she was elected to the school board and re-elected in 2011.
She first considered this race after speaking with Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb, a Republican.
Senate Republicans wanted Lamb to run. He declined, steered them to McCravey and relayed the interest of the GOP caucus in her.
"I said, 'You should give it good consideration because I think you'd be good at it'," he recalled. Lamb, however, has not formally endorsed her.
McCravey was the last of the three candidates to enter the contest.
"I decided somebody needs to run against Rosemary that understands the incremental changes that have led to the public education system we have today in Washington," she said.
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Education is the central issue in this campaign.
McAuliffe and McCravey agree on the need to boost school funding, improve student achievement and cut the drop-out rate. They disagree on most of the means to accomplish those goals.
Neither candidate backs a general tax increase to raise money.
McCravey endorses a levy swap proposal percolating in Olympia and garnering a lot of attention in the governor's race. The concept is for all school districts to collect less in local levies and replace those lost dollars with money from the statewide property tax fund.
As now conceived property owners in some districts, including Northshore, will pay higher property taxes to make it all balance out.
McAuliffe said the idea needs discussing and refining. "I'm not sure how it'll play out until we know better who will be the winners and losers," she said.
The two women disagree on Initiative 1185, which would re-impose a requirement that new taxes be approved by a two-thirds majority of lawmakers. McAuliffe opposes it, saying the supermajority requirement ties the hands of legislators, while McCravey supports the measure.
On charter schools, McAuliffe opposes them saying they are an experiment that should not be undertaken until existing schools are fully funded.
McCravey said she will vote for Initiative 1240, the ballot measure to allow up to 40 charter schools. "We've had 20 years to look at charter schools. This is one of the best charter laws in the U.S," she said. "I don't like the idea of putting something off that might actually work."
Higher education is one place where the two found some agreement: both women said they support Washington State University pursuing a branch campus in Everett.
Both agreed on the need to invest in transportation improvements though their focuses are different. McCravey said the priority should be congestion relief and safety projects while McAuliffe said additional bus service should be considered along with new road construction.
Social issues offer another area of divergence.
McAuliffe voted to pass the law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry and will vote to approve Referendum 74 to put the law into effect.
McCravey said she would have voted against the gay marriage law if she had been in the Senate. She's been less clear on how she'll act on the ballot measure.
"I am very comfortable letting the voters of Washington decide these difficult social issues and it's not my intention to override the will of the people on an initiative or referendum like this," she said in July.
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Entering the final three weeks of the campaign, the two candidates are raising and spending money at about the same pace.
McAuliffe had collected $176,000 and spent $148,000 while McCravey had hauled in about $173,000 and spent nearly $129,000, according to information posted online Friday by the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Nearly a third of McAuliffe's cash contributions came from Democratic Party sources while slightly more than half of McCravey's donations are from Republican Party organizations.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com
1st Legislative District, state senator
The job is a four-year term as a state senator in the 1st Legislative District. The area covers the communities of Mountlake Terrace, Brier, and Bothell in Snohomish County and Kirkland in King County. The annual salary is $42,106.
Experience: Serving fifth term as a state senator after 14 years on the Northshore School District board. Owns the Hollywood Schoolhouse events center in Woodinville.
Experience: Serving second term on the Northshore School District board and a former special education teacher in Colorado and Texas.
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