4 questions as we count down to Election Day

As ballots arrive, at last, here are a few questions to be answered in the next 20 days.

Can Republican Rob McKenna win with a Democratic plan and Democrat Jay Inslee win without?

McKenna’s education funding wagon is hitched to an idea conceived by a Democrat with the potential of bringing higher property tax bills to thousands of residents.

As envisioned, school districts would swap money collected from local levies for an equal sum from the state’s property tax collections. Done right, school districts don’t get richer or poorer, they break even. To balance out, however, some residents will need to pay more in property taxes than they do now.

This creates a nagging problem for McKenna which Inslee — who opposes the swap — has happily sought to exploit in debates and commercials.

McKenna said he opposes tax increases to boost funding for schools but begrudgingly admits tax bills will climb for some if the swap goes forward as now sketched.

Like a good lawyer, McKenna argues the swap is the best proposal out there to satisfy state Supreme Court justices who are demanding the state help school districts rely less on local levies. He even pokes Inslee for not offering an alternative to make those justices happy.

That doesn’t lessen the concern for McKenna who in defending the complicated idea has to worry voters don’t conclude he’s going back on his pledge to not raise taxes. That would make him seem more like a Democrat.

Will the Grand Old Party abandon John Koster again?

Koster stood on the doorstep of victory against Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen two years ago and hoped the National Republican Congressional Committee would help carry him over the threshold. But the NRCC didn’t show up.

Now, signs are accumulating it may do it again.

Koster, a Republican Snohomish County Councilman, and Democrat Suzan DelBene, are dueling in the 1st Congressional District. It’s an open seat and winnable for either one.

House Republican leaders have said capturing the seat is a priority. Yet last Friday when the independent expenditure arm of the NRCC plowed another $6 million into ads in contests across the country, none went to assist Koster.

This week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which provided Koster an enthusiastic endorsement early — identified where it plans big investments in the final days of the election and the Arlington Republican’s race didn’t make their list.

It’s starting to look like deja vu all over again.

When will Rosemary McAuliffe — and her friends — fight back?

No state lawmaker is wearing a bigger target on their back this election than McAuliffe, the Democratic state senator from Bothell. One opponent is finding it real easy to hit because the veteran lawmaker is doing little to evade the blows or jab back.

Stand for Children, an education reform group upset with McAuliffe’s opposition to their agenda, has hit her with $200,000 worth of mailers and commercials this month without much pushback.

Nor has the Washington Education Association and other allies of the senator who did collectively spent $90,000 on her behalf in the primary.

What gives?

If McAuliffe and Co. don’t reply forcefully soon, one can only surmise they’ve seen something which shows they can save their money and win the seat.

Will Mary Margaret Haugen survive?

Haugen, the venerable Democratic state senator from Camano Island, looks vulnerable coming out of the final electoral curve into the homestretch.

Haugen lost the primary by an eye-opening margin to state Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, partly because she played rope-a-dope with Bailey’s friends in the Senate Republican caucus.

They pummeled Haugen in a series of mailers but the senator chose to absorb the blows rather than respond. She’s been playing catch up with television ads and mailers of her own ever since.

Haugen resists going negative. Her allies aren’t of the same mindset. This week, a coalition of Democratic groups and labor unions began punching back at Bailey with a cable television ad.

In the meantime, Haugen is outraising Bailey by a lot. That’s the good news for her. The bad news for her is the 10th Legislative District tilts Republican so the way she spends those dollars need to pay dividends or Haugen won’t be first at the finish line.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog is at www.heraldnet.com/thepetridish. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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